Community colleges play a critical role in preparing the workforce for high-growth jobs, the nation’s top education official told students, faculty, and community leaders attending a town hall meeting at Austin Community College’s Eastview Campus.
“As families get back on their feet, the country is going to get back on its feet, and community colleges have this extraordinarily important role to play in that process,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told a standing-room only crowd of almost 500 people.
Duncan said that despite high unemployment rates, two million high-wage, high-skill jobs were going unfilled. As a result, an ongoing partnership between colleges and the private sector is essential to providing the workforce the country needs to be competitive.
“We think ACC’s doing an extraordinary job of building those public-private partnerships,” he said. “The example you’re setting we think has implications not just for the local community but for the country.”
Co-sponsored by the Austin Chamber of Commerce and TechNet, the town hall brought together students, educators, business leaders, and policymakers to discuss issues concerning higher education and workforce preparation. Texas Tribune Editor Evan Smith moderated the panel discussion, which also included ACC President Dr. Richard Rhodes, Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education, and Tony Budet, President and CEO of Austin’s University Federal Credit Union.
Duncan pointed to federal funding of partnerships between higher education and businesses to train workers for jobs in healthcare, technology, and green energy, and cited President Barack Obama’s proposed $8 billion Community College to Career Fund.
“We’re trying to shine an unprecedented spotlight on the working community colleges. We think community colleges are vital for families, for communities, and for the country,” he said.
In addition to workforce training, Duncan addressed issues ranging from college affordability, to a declining teacher workforce, to funding for arts education.
Duncan said that the nation’s teachers must be elevated to the same status as physicians or engineers, and advocated doubling teachers’ starting salaries.
Panelists also addressed rising tuition costs, which they said are making higher education seem out of reach for many.
Duncan said that college affordability is no longer an issue only for lower-income families. In response, he said the government had increased Pell Grant funding by $40 billion, with grant recipients increasing to 9 million from 6 million. In some instances, he added, Pell Grants can make community college tuition virtually free.
“Part of the reason I love community colleges is they’re so affordable,” he said. “The value community colleges are providing to the country is simply extraordinary.”
Before the town hall, several students, administrators, faculty, and community representatives participated in a roundtable discussion with Dann-Messier, who also toured the campus for an up-close view of some of ACC’s workforce and adult education programs. Dann-Messier praised ACC’s ability to quickly adapt curriculum to meet employers’ needs.
Dr. Rhodes and the other panelists said that community colleges also need to work with businesses and with schools at all levels to prepare individuals for the workforce, regardless of whether they seek a traditional college or university education.
Dann-Messier noted the government’s planned efforts to transform career and technical education while commending ACC’s “robust” adult education program.
Dr. Rhodes said that ACC’s ability to remain agile and responsive to workplace needs was a collaborative effort.
“The spirit of collaboration that exists here is what allows us to be responsive and react to the community to meet future skill needs,” he said.
To view a video of the entire town hall meeting, click here: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/20966976.
posted in: ACC Homepage Announcements, ACC Newsroom, Current Students Feature, Faculty and Staff Feature