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White House hits road to promote community colleges

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Patricia Donohue, president of Mercer County Community College (MCCC), joins Dr. Jill Biden and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor Seth Harris, who visited MCCC this month.

​The Obama administration this week is running on all cylinders promoting its array of programs and proposals to help community colleges and their students, with top officials—including President Barack Obama—visiting two-year college campuses.

On Wednesday, Obama stopped at Ohio’s Lorain County Community College (LCCC)—which he has previously visited to promote workforce partnerships—to highlight how federal job training programs are providing critical services to unemployed workers and helping them to get jobs in high-demand, high-growth industries. The president was scheduled to meet students in the college’s computerized numerically controlled machining program, which has a proven track record of success; more than 90 percent of participants in the program have found jobs within three months of graduation.

With a high unemployment rate and what is expected to be a key state in the upcoming presidential election, Obama pitched his proposed $8-billion Community College to Career Fund, which aims to forge partnerships between community colleges and businesses to train two million workers for good-paying jobs in growing industries, such as health care, transportation and advanced manufacturing.

While the president was promoting his proposals, he also targeted a House Republican budget plan released last week. In a press release, the White House noted that federal job training funding through the federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA)—which community colleges such as LCCC use to assist dislocated workers and others—would face cuts under the House GOP plan. The Republican budget resolution would reduce spending on discretionary programs like WIA by more than 5 percent in 2013 and 19 percent in 2014. That would be the equivalent of eliminating services to 13,000 Ohioans in 2013 and 37,000 in 2014, according to the White House.

During a Senate panel hearing Tuesday on job training initiaitives, administration officials highlighted their departments' job training programs, with a focus on how they help community colleges train incumbent and unemployed workers for available high-skill jobs, especially in manufacturing. The officials from the U.S. Departments of Education, Labor and Commerce also noted their interagency job training efforts.

Address rural development

Rural community colleges are also on the mind of administration officials. On Thursday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will travel to Hawkeye Community College’s Fennemen Center Farm Lab in Iowa. He will join U.S. Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack and Jay Williams, executive director of recovery for auto communities and workers at the U.S. Department of Labor, to host a White House Rural Council​ workforce training roundtable. The discussion will focus on improving rural economies by training and retraining workers for in-demand jobs. (On Wednesday, USDA and the Education Department signed an interagency agreement to promote career pathways and postsecondary education in rural areas.)

Also on Thursday, Duncan will join Brenda Dann-Messier, the Education Department’s assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, at Des Moines Area Community College (Iowa) for a town hall chat with students and business leaders about the future of career and technical education.

On the Road with Biden

This Wednesday, Dr. Jill Biden and U.S. Education Under Secretary Martha Kanter visited Reading Area Community College in Pennsylvania to highlight innovative industry partnerships as the latest stop on Biden’s Community College to Career tour. Earlier this month, Biden—who teaches English at Northern Virginia Community College—visited Mercer County Community College (New Jersey) as part of the tour.

In February, Biden and U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis took a three-day bus tour focused on the unique role community colleges play in developing a skilled workforce to meet emerging regional business needs.

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