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White House summit emphasizes public-private partnerships

A common thread seemed to weave through the first White House Summit on Community Colleges: More emphasis on private and public partnerships to help students succeed in college, from providing resources to developing learning opportunities.
Some 120 participants from community colleges, businesses, philanthrophies and federal and state governments gathered for the summit on Tuesday to discuss challenges and promising practices to help increase the number of students who graduate from public two-year colleges. Much of the discussions focused on the importance of education to the economy.
“Community colleges are at the center to educate our way to a better economy,” said Dr. Jill Biden, who lead the summit, noting the need for skilled workers in traditional industries, such as transportation infrastructure, to growing industries such as health care, and emerging fields, such as green jobs.
The participants also received a pep talk from President Barack Obama before breaking into groups to discuss certain topics, from affordability and college completion, to online learning and industry-college partnerships. The president emphasized his national goal of producing the largest number of college graduates in the world by 2020.
“America does not play for second place, and it certainly does not play for ninth,” he said, observing the current world ranking of the U.S. “Let’s get busy.”
Reviving partnerships
During the summit, several new public-private initiatives to improve student success were announced, including a $35 million initiative by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and an annual $1 million prize that will be managed by the Aspen Institute and funded by various philanthropies, including Lumina Foundation for Education.
Summit participants discussed the current strengths of community college-business partnerships, such as offering flexible class schedules to accommodate working students, and offering apprenticeships and internships to provide contextual learning experiences for students.
The challenges include bringing proven practices up to scale, said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who noted that her department this month will begin accepting proposals for the $2 billion in job training grants made available through the health care legislation enacted this spring.
“It’s about capacity building,” she said.
Helping military veterans
With an expected increase in the number of returning military veterans enrolling at community colleges, summit attendees—who included a few student veterans—discussed the special needs of these students and how to serve them.
There needs to be a system of support for students who served in the military, from helping them transition from active duty to enrolling in higher education as civilians, to providing on campus help through special services and support groups, said Heather Higginbottom, deputy assistant secretary for domestic policy at the White House, who moderated a roundtable discussion on the topic.
Her group noted that organizations that serve military veterans—from federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, to higher education—need to collect data on these students to determine best practices to share with campuses.