Community college grants, prizes to be unveiled at White House summit

Jill Biden will headline the White House's first-ever summit focusing on community college.
Jill Biden will headline the White House's first-ever summit focusing on community colleges.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will announce a $35 million competitive grant program during the White House’s first Community College Summit, and two major banks will join philanthropic groups to kick off a $1 million prize for officials from education, business, and public service who lead reform efforts.

The first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges, hosted by longtime educator and Second Lady Jill Biden, will bring together leaders from education and labor to discuss how two-year schools can help train workers and boost the struggling economy, according to a White House announcement.

The Gates Foundation will continue its giving to educational causes with a grant program targeting groups of community colleges with low-income students in nine states.

The program, called Completion by Design, will be available to colleges in North Carolina, New York, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, California, Arizona, Texas, and Washington.

Charitable branches of JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America will join philanthropic organizations the Aspen Institute and the Joyce and Lumina Foundations to award an annual $1 million prize to educational leaders who “[accelerate] the spread of successful practices” and improve community college completion rates.

The award is not limited to those in education, according to an Oct. 5 announcement. Public officials and business leaders also will be eligible.

The Community College Summit comes a day after President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board announced its Skills for America’s Future program, which aims to connect businesses with community colleges to help better match workers with jobs during the economic recovery and beyond.

“From our position, community colleges are the foundation of our public workforce system,” Assistant Secretary of Labor Jane Oats said during an Oct. 4 conference call with reporters. “They are the access points for students of all ages. … In weeks or months, they can [provide] the best trained workers possible” for local businesses looking to hire.

Courtney O’Donnell, Biden’s spokeswoman, said that helping credentialed students find jobs at businesses searching for qualified applicants would be a focus of the White House’s Summit on Community Colleges.

“We want to make sure [students’] hurdles are lowered so they can meet their goals,” she said.

The Obama administration has provided massive funding programs for community colleges over the past year, including the $2 billion Community College and Career Training initiative, and $500 million to help two-year colleges bolster completion rates.

But the $2 billion was supposed to be $10 billion in federal money for job training, building projects, and initiatives to graduate more students.

By the time an overhaul of the federal student loan program had made its way through Congress, all that remained for community colleges was $2 billion over four years for job training.

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