President Obama frequently talks about the importance of educating our way to a better economy, and partnerships between community colleges and businesses are vital to getting there. That was the key message of the U.S. Department of Education’s Community College Summit at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis on Wednesday, March 23.
“These summits are an opportunity for us to ‘listen and learn’ from all of you. These discussions will help us to make future decisions about higher ed,” said Under Secretary Martha Kanter to a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 200 educators, business executives, policymakers, philanthropists and students.
Kanter discussed President Obama’s goal of increasing the number of American college graduates from 40 percent of working adults today, to 60 percent by 2020. That goal will better prepare students for the 21st century job market, and help the U.S. regain its position as first in the world in educating its students. She said that meeting this goal will require the U.S. to turn out at least 8 million additional graduates, and at least 5 million will come from community colleges.
It’s critical we think not only about the students coming up from high school, but the two-thirds of adults who need to come back or go to college for the first time to move into a new career.
The meeting was the third of four regional summits convened to follow on the success of the White House Summit on Community Colleges held last October, where the President launched “Skills for America’s Future,” an initiative to improve industry partnerships with community colleges. The summits were developed to identify promising practices for improving community colleges, with the first gathering in Philadelphia focusing on adult learners and an earlier meeting in Houston highlighting transitions to 4-year institutions. Collaboration between community colleges and the private sector was the special focus of this meeting.
The decision to have this summit in the Midwest and specifically at Ivy Tech was no accident.
“We selected the Midwest specifically because so many of the community colleges here have really stepped up to the plate,” said Kanter, noting Midwestern colleges’ “responsiveness to the 21st century needs of employers” in developing tailored programs for retraining displaced workers.
As one of the largest community college systems in the U.S. with nearly 200,000 students at 23 campuses throughout Indiana, Ivy Tech Community College has formed more than 1,200 distinct partnerships with businesses. One of those collaborations is with the Northern Indiana Public Service Company. “We were going through a period where we could not get very many applicants to pass our pre-entry aptitude tests,” said Kris Emaus, manager of training for NIPSCO, during a lunchtime panel discussion.
NIPSCO joined forces with other state utility companies facing similar challenges to form the Indiana Energy Consortium. The consortium reached out to Ivy Tech, which has established a customized curriculum to provide students with the skills they need to fill an array of positions with salaries ranging from $25,000 to $105,000. So far, about 100 students have enrolled in the program, she said.
ED’s dialogue with community college stakeholders will continue at a San Diego summit on April 15, with a special focus on programs for military members, veterans and their families. A virtual summit is also planned for April 27. To submit your name for consideration as a summit participant in San Diego please send your name, organization, title and e-mail address to: email@example.com
Julie Ewart is senior public affairs specialist for the Department of Education’s Region V office (including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin), and proud mom of three public school students.