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White House Summit on Community Colleges set for October 5, 2010

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The first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges is scheduled to take place on October 5, 2010 in Washington, DC.

President Barack Obama has asked Jill Biden—a 17-year veteran community college professor and wife of Vice President Joe Biden— to act as chairperson of the event.

The guest list includes various educators and students, as well as philanthropists, businesspeople and both federal and state leaders.

Bringing Leaders and Students Together to Achieve a Common Goal

The American Association of Community Colleges explains that the summit is being held as a way to bring community colleges together with leaders and students in order to discuss how community colleges can help meet the job training and educational needs of the nation’s evolving workplace, as well as the critical role community colleges play in achieving President Obama’s goal of leading the world with the highest number of college graduates by the year 2010.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the diversity of the summit’s guest list is vital because it will take a group effort to strengthen our country’s community colleges, our largest and most affordable means of higher education.

Concerns Rising over Lack of Adjunct Professors

Even so, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that concerns have been raised that adjunct professors will not be well-represented at the summit. The White House’s list of invited participants includes a corporate CEO, college presidents, and military leaders but there was no mention of a community college faculty member other than Jill Biden.

Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, a national advocacy group for adjuncts and an English instructor at Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, said she is baffled over why the faculty is not playing a more-significant role in the discussion. “Who is at the heart of community colleges? Students and faculty,” Ms. Maisto said. “Ms. Biden understands that and is eloquent on that relationship. That is why this is so puzzling.”

The White House reports that U.S. community colleges enroll more than 8 million students per year. Due to the high tuition at private universities as well as the national unemployment rate being at an all-time high of 9.6 percent, community college enrollment has increased drastically. The schools have experienced a 17 percent increase over the past two years and a 30 percent increase over the past five.

Community College Graduation Rates Must Improve

Although statistics prove that enrollment at community colleges is skyrocketing, their graduation rates are not. Approximately half of community college students drop out before their second year and only 25 percent finish within 3 years. Those who graduate take an average of five years to earn their two-year degree.

The Lexington Herald Leader reports that nearly 80 percent of the nation’s firefighters, law enforcement officers and emergency medical personnel are trained at the 1,173 community colleges located across the country, and future accountants, actors and directors, computer software engineers, electricians, entrepreneurs, nurses, plumbers and teachers get degrees there.

Many community colleges have started offering “early bird” and “night owl” classes during odd times of day to accommodate the rising demand for courses. The national unemployment rate is at an all-time high and many community colleges play a central role in job training for fields such as plumbing and nursing, which are both rising in popularity.

Participate in the Summit on Community Colleges

The White House has invited Americans to participate in the Summit on Community Colleges by submitting videos to share how the community college experience has affected their lives, joining an online dialogue of the event while it occurs or watching the plenary session of the summit on October 5 via live webcast.

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.


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