FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 27, 2017
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Opinion Editorial by Walter G. Bumphus, Ph.D.
Community colleges are a gateway to the middle class for many Americans. Not only do community colleges serve students looking for a traditional degree program, but they continue to lead the nation in workforce education and remain committed to closing the skills gap. The nation’s community colleges offer low-cost and high-quality programs and services to more than 12 million students a year. As a system, community colleges were challenged to graduate a million additional students by the year 2020. We took on the challenge and continue to be laser-focused on the success of our students. One of the important concepts that came from this challenge is the College Promise (Promise) program that provides for free community college tuition for students who are willing to work toward success. While the Promise program has not gained traction at the federal level, I continue to be inspired by the innovation and investment in students that has been made with the hundreds of free community college or Promise programs that have been developed across the country.
Some of these programs are state funded, most are locally funded, and all are intended to remove barriers that stop students from achieving their goals. They also provide critical training programs that are specific to jobs. As the largest provider of training for first-responders, community colleges also provide career education in hundreds of fields such as welding, manufacturing, culinary arts, cybersecurity, and host of others. As the educator for the majority of the nation’s underrepresented student populations, removing barriers to community college education and workforce preparation is critical to the future of the middle class in America.
While we have seen a great deal of local investment in community college education, Promise programs are more important than ever. It is no secret that America has a skills gap. Businesses continue to struggle to find workers who have the skills required to succeed in today’s modern work place. Community colleges continue to work to fill this gap. Perfectly positioned, community colleges are flexible, cost effective, and responsive to the needs of the local community. Community colleges are able to provide relevant programs that help students to attain their goals while also preparing them to enter the local workforce. It’s a win-win.
But, college costs continue to rise despite these efforts. Many students are not able to afford to go to college or will incur a great deal of debt before they complete their studies. Many community college students are the first of their family to attend college and most community college students are over 21 years old and work in addition to taking classes. Promise programs provide these students with the security of not having to choose between paying for school or paying rent. Providing this support allows students to provide their best effort toward completion. Students who complete programs are more likely to get well-paying jobs, buy homes in the community, and contribute to their local economy. It’s a good investment all around and an important factor in ensuring equity for all Americans looking to better their future.
Congratulations to the College Promise movement on its success in many communities. But we are not done yet and more Promise programs are needed to ensure that we can continue to increase the number of graduates by 2020. I join many of my colleagues and remain committed to working toward increasing the number of students completing their programs of study in order to ensure that the United States has a prepared and competitive workforce.
Dr. Walter G. Bumphus is the President and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and serves on the board of the America’s College Promise Initiative. As the voice of the nation’s community colleges, AACC, delivers educational and economic opportunity for more than million diverse students in search of the American Dream. Uniquely dedicated to access and success for all students, AACC’s member colleges provide an on-ramp to degree attainment, skilled careers and family-supporting wages. Located in Washington, D.C., AACC advocates for these not-for-profit, public-serving institutions to ensure they have the resources and support they need to deliver on the mission of increasing economic mobility for all.