Sunday, April 18, 2010

(President Barack Obama greets the crowd at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., Tuesday, July 14, 2009. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)


Because Obama running for President frequently mentioned community colleges in his campaign speeches, there were high expectations among those in this public higher education sector from the new national administration. Now 15 months into his presidency, the results are decidedly mixed.

On July 14, 2009 Obama announced a plan to fund and improve community colleges nationwide. Called the American Graduation Initiative (AGI), Obama proposed spending to $12 Billion over ten years on community colleges with the goal, he said, “to help an additional 5 million Americans earn degrees and certificates in the next decade.”

Promising $1.2 Billion per year, the American Graduation Initiative support for community colleges was quite modest. With enrollment at community colleges at over 6 million and growing rapidly, the federal support would amount to less than $200 per student per year, money that would have been helpful to hard pressed colleges but not enough to significantly alter the educational landscape. Federal support did signify the recognition of the importance to the nation of community colleges and the prospect – long term – of increased attention.

While AGI rushed moved quickly through the House of Representatives, it stalled in the Senate, victim of the controversy over national health care legislation. Originally part of the student loan reform bill, it was dropped when that legislation passed as part of health care in March, 2010.

So give President Obama an A for raising the issue of national support for community colleges and Congress an F for not following his lead.