White House makes grants to boost online learning

Obama promised $2 billion in grant money to community colleges last year.

White House officials announced the first installation of a $2 billion grant program that could help community colleges better – and more quickly – ready students for openings in the slumping job market through industry partnerships and an expansion of free online courses that would let students move through curriculum at their own pace.

During a conference call Sept. 26, Obama administration officials said the first $500 million in the workforce training program would be distributed to community colleges and college consortia nationwide after a rigorous application process that lasted almost a year.

President Obama and Second Lady Jill Biden, a longtime community college professor, joined hundreds of educators last October at the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges, where Obama made it clear that community colleges would serve a key role in his administration’s economic recovery plan.

Martha Kanter, undersecretary of the U.S. Education Department, said part of the first $500 million in federal grants would target the creation of more open – free – web-based class material, an initiative long championed by campus technologists.

Open courses will “greatly expand learning opportunities … and allow students to learn more quickly,” Kanter said. “Learning is no longer one size fits all.”

The open-learning money would also ensure that whatever new online course material is developed will be “continually improved” by educators tweaking curriculum that students will study largely on their own.

“No worker is denied valuable training due to financial constraints,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.

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