For the nation’s community colleges, the White House Summit on Community Colleges was their long-awaited day in the spotlight. Often neglected, frequently overlooked and sometimes even ridiculed, two-year colleges were explicitly recognized at the highest levels of government as a linchpin of American prosperity as the country staves off an ever-expanding roster of economic competitors.
Said Jill Biden, wife of the vice-president, a longtime community college professor and organizer of the summit: “This is an historic and exciting opportunity for all of us in the community college world. For years I have said that community colleges are one of America’s best-kept secrets. Well, with the President of the United States shining a light on us, I think that secret is out.”
But despite the enthusiastic show of support from members of President Barack Obama’s cabinet and lavish praise from all quarters, the summit offered scant hope that the college’s most immediate problem — shrinking resources at a time of skyrocketing enrollment — will be addressed anytime soon.
About 150 college presidents, students and business leaders traveled to Washington from around the country for a gathering in the White House’s ornate East Room and heard their institutions praised as places where the path to the American dream begins for thousands of people.
Attendees later broke up into smaller groups to discuss many of the challenges that have long been bedeviling colleges — how to best serve veterans returning from two wars, how to make sense of the convoluted student financial aid process, and perhaps most importantly, how to improve retention and graduation rates.
Community colleges were called unpolished gem in need of attention if the country is ever to realize Obama’s goal of leading the world in educational achievement by the year 2020.
But little concrete emerged from the summit aside from three initiatives being spearheaded by the private sector.
College leaders were grateful for the recognition, but also said they need more financial resources if Obama’s education goals are to be realized.