Imagine an America that once again leads the world in higher education attainment.
An America that leads the world in innovation, productivity and advanced manufacturing. An America where every high school student has the ability—and the desire—to graduate from college. An America where every worker is trained for the jobs of the future. What could we achieve? What would the future hold?
This vision was outlined by President Barack Obama on Tuesday, as he unveiled the American Graduation Initiative. This 10-year, $12 billion investment in community colleges across the U.S. seeks to help students access higher education, graduate, and find jobs in the fields where workers are needed most. The President acknowledged the vital role community colleges play in our higher education continuum and suggested that in the future, America’s greatest return on investment would come from investments in its community colleges.
Community colleges currently stand as the largest and fastest growing segment of our higher education system, with more than 6 million students enrolled across the U.S. The President’s plan will continue to increase those numbers translating to over 200,000 community college students here in Indiana in the near future. A number that we have forecasted based on our current growth. But that growth will not be possible without federal and state funding. This proposed plan might help fill that funding gap for community colleges.
Each year we spend a substantially more dollars on four-year colleges and universities than our community colleges. In calling the community college “an undervalued asset in our country,” President Obama said this disparity needs to change.
Enrollment growth alone is not the answer though. The President appropriately stressed the importance of more students earning certificates and degrees. The timing here in Indiana could not be more appropriate as Lumina Foundation for Education just recently named Ivy Tech Community College its first statewide Achieving the Dream school. The foundation of Achieving the Dream is remediation, retention and completion.
And the training of our workforce must continue. But we cannot do this alone. We need a lively interaction with business leadership – the men and women who create jobs and keep their employees training with the latest skills. We are the largest training provider in the state of Indiana working directly with nearly 1,000 companies. Our workforce training efforts are currently designed to be self-funded without direct state or federal support something we will seek to receive in the future to allow us to double the number of companies we serve.
As the leader of Indiana’s community college system, I was encouraged by President Obama’s words. However, my enthusiasm for the American Graduation Initiative goes well beyond my position with Ivy Tech Community College. As an employer, I am eager to have access to a greater number of workers who are prepared for the jobs of the 21st century. As a former executive in an industry that has been decimated by our recent economic challenges, I am optimistic that displaced workers can get the training they need to start a new career.
President Obama has encouraged us to do more than just imagine a better future for ourselves and our families. With the American Graduation Initiative, we can put these dreams into action and inspire others to have even greater dreams for themselves. America’s community colleges stand ready to respond, and ready to prove that we are worthy of every dollar invested in us.
We are embarked on a partnership that can help rebuild our nation. The federal government is for the first time becoming a partner. State governments are loyal partners. And business leadership is vital. This is a partnership that is indeed essential to America’s future.