President Barack Obamas American Graduation Initiative calls for an additional five million community college degrees and certificates by 2020.
Legislation to accomplish this goal, H.R. 3221, has passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and is headed for the U.S. Senate. We believe this legislation, if passed, will make a very positive contribution to our nations future.
Forty years ago, millions of Americans could find good family-wage jobs with only a high school education. Without additional education, they could support their families until retirement.
Things have changed. National studies now show that to compete for most well-paying jobs, workers need at least one year of college and often a two-year college associate degree. Nationally, our 1,200 public community and technical colleges provide this employment-oriented learning.
Community and technical colleges are the largest part of our higher education system, enrolling more than 6 million students nationally and rapidly growing.
In Pierce County, the five community and technical colleges Bates Technical College, Clover Park Technical College, Pierce College-Fort Steilacoom, Pierce College-Puyallup and Tacoma Community College serve more than 70,000 students each year.
Our colleges offer an open door to citizens who need our services. Together we help residents learn English, complete a high school diploma, retrain for a new career after a layoff and take courses leading to a four-year degree. And we play an ever-increasing role working with scores of area businesses by providing customized workforce education for their employees.
This fall, each of our colleges has experienced unprecedented enrollment pressure at the same time we have experienced significant reductions in our state-funded budgets. Among our students are thousands of laid-off workers retraining for a new career and a brighter future. And increasing numbers of high school graduates are coming to us seeking lower-cost entry into college.
Pierce Countys two-year colleges are excited to embrace President Obamas American Graduation Initiative, designed to set a new national goal: By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.
The presidents initiative would create the community college challenge fund, providing about $12 billion over five years to help colleges improve instruction, build ties with business and produce significantly more graduates.
The graduation initiative would also fund innovative strategies to promote college completion. Nearly half the students who enter community colleges intending to earn a degree or transfer to a four-year college fail to reach their goal within six years. The College Access and Completion Fund will finance the innovation, evaluation, and expansion of efforts to increase college graduation rates and close achievement gaps at community colleges.
The initiative would provide funds to help modernize college facilities. Many community colleges, including those in Washington, are struggling to keep up with rising enrollment. Most need help to maintain facilities and purchase equipment to train students in growing technical fields.
The graduation initiative will create a new online skills laboratory to help students learn more in less time than they would with traditional classroom instruction alone. Interactive software could tailor instruction to individual students like human tutors do, while simulations and multimedia software offer experiential learning.
We believe our college and the 1,200 other community and technical colleges nationwide are well positioned to help the U.S. achieve the goal by 2020 of having the highest proportion of college graduates of any world nation. We expect this legislation may encounter some rough sailing in the U.S. Senate, and we urge readers to lend their support.
Pamela Transue is the president of Tacoma Community College. Laurie Jinkins is chairwoman of the TCC Board of Trustees.