Summit focuses on community colleges

Jill Biden with community college students

TEXT OF STORY

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Jill Biden, wife of the vice president,
is hosting the first-ever White House summit on community colleges today in Washington. The Obama administration is banking on the low-cost schools to help raise college graduation rates and retrain unemployed workers.

From the Marketplace Education Desk at WYPR in Baltimore, Amy Scott reports.


AMY SCOTT: President Obama wants community colleges to graduate five million more students by the year 2020. But graduation rates at the schools are notoriously low.

Thomas Bailey directs the Community College Research Center at Teachers College in New York. He hopes today's summit will help change that.

THOMAS BAILEY: I don't think there's any question that colleges can do a better job. And we hope that with attention, with better research foundation, that they'll be able to do that.

Supporters of community colleges say graduation rates don't tell the whole story because so many of their students transfer to four-year colleges.

But Northwestern University professor James Rosenbaum says that's part of the problem. Community colleges are focused on steering students toward bachelor's degrees -- a process he says often takes 6-10 years.

JAMES ROSENBAUM: It's a long slog for these students to get through to the BA, and we don't currently give them intervening credentials that have any value in the labor market. And we should be doing that.

Community college leaders say they do give students valuable job skills.

Jack Quinn is president of Erie Community College in Buffalo. He says his school has teamed up with a power company to train workers to climb utility poles.

JACK QUINN: Every single one of these 17 who are in the training program after a year will go to work at close to $20 an hour or more.

The Obama administration wants more partnerships like this. The president announced a new initiative yesterday to connect community colleges with local employers.

I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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