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Obama, Biden, Gates Focus on Community Colleges for Job Skills

President Barack Obama holds the first White House summit highlighting the role that community colleges play in educating workers, an effort boosted by a $35 million donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The meeting, which includes representatives of businesses, philanthropic groups and community colleges, is the second in two days to focus on the role of institutions that Obama says are crucial to future U.S. economic growth.

“These are students that you don’t think of: non-traditional working students,” Melinda Gates, co-chair of the foundation and wife of Bill Gates, the billionaire chairman of Microsoft Corp., said on NBC’s “Today” show this morning. “They’re working students, they often hold down two jobs, they have a child.”

The goal for the grant program is for those students to “complete community college and get a job in the economy,” she said.

Obama has set a goal of increasing the number of community college degrees and certificates by 5 million in the next decade. Yesterday he announced an initiative that links companies including McDonald’s Corp., Gap Inc., Pacific Gas & Electric, Accenture Plc and United Technologies Corp. with community colleges for programs aimed at boosting the job skills of American workers.

The president will be joined at today’s summit by Jill Biden, wife of the vice president and a teacher at a community college.


“This administration has committed unprecedented investments” for community colleges, Biden told reporters yesterday.

The $814 billion economic stimulus legislation signed by Obama last year included more than $3.5 billion in community college financial aid and $1 billion for community college worker training programs.

The $35 million Gates foundation donation, called “Completion by Design,” will provide grants to groups of community colleges in nine states that develop plans to address the needs of low-income students, the Seattle-based foundation said yesterday in a statement.

Biden said community colleges have changed from decades ago, when they were sometimes regarded as fall-back schools when a student couldn’t get into a four-year college.

Community colleges are “a great secret,” Biden said on the “Today” show. “We’re trying to say to America, ‘hey, we’ve changed and look what we have to offer.”

The program Obama announced yesterday aims to create at least one partnership between industry and community colleges in each state.

“One of our most-undervalued assets as a nation is our network of community colleges,” Obama said yesterday at a meeting of his economic recovery advisory board. “These colleges don’t just serve as a gateway to good jobs for millions of middle-class Americans; community colleges also serve as a pool of talent from which businesses can draw trained, skilled workers.”

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