Many of these proposals are presented as not only ways to help reduce the cost of a college education but also as workforce and economic development strategies.
James Kvaal, deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said there’s currently an “unusual moment” to make the case for “something dramatically different.”
“There are a lot of people focusing on higher education as a key to [economic] growth,” he told AACC board members.
Kvaal noted that the president would like to see community college as universal as high schools are today.
“That’s what helped fuel our economic growth,” he noted of universal secondary education.
Focused on states
Part of the president’s proposal includes states financially contributing to the plan in order to participate. Kvaal noted that over the past decade many states have “disinvested” in higher education as they faced tight budgets. As a result, many colleges and universities had to increase tuition to make up for lost revenue, which in turn has made it more difficult for many students to afford college.
Through the president’s proposal and other similar efforts around the country, the White House hopes more states will see higher education as a sound investment and provide more funding for it. Kvaal added that the focus should include showing how community colleges are aligning with employers’ needs and implementing strategies to increase college completion.
The effort is not directed to “just pump money into the system but to raise quality,” he said.
Although the Obama administration is hopeful that Congress will pass some version of the president's proposal, officials acknowledge it will be a tough road. But they are looking to gain support from the grassroots to the national levels through an outreach and awareness campaign that will hopefully include community college leaders, students and supporters, such as businesses that benefit from workforce training provided by the colleges.
At the national level, the administration is reaching out to states — this week alone officials from Ohio and Texas visited the White House — to rally them to push for more investments in higher education. It’s also looking to organizations such as AACC to help get the word out. The administration has been strategically deploring its top brass — including U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez — around the country to highlight America’s College Promise.
On a local level, the White House hopes students, especially those who are members of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year colleges, as well as business leaders, will publicly back the president’s proposal.
Kvaal noted that since Tennessee passed its free community college plan — on which the president’s plan is partially based — articles on the upcoming implementation of the Tennessee Promise have been front-page news almost daily. It’s that type of attention that will help reach students, families, businesses and others to rally behind higher education, he said.
About that rating system
The AACC board was also updated by U.S. Education Department officials on the administration’s proposed national college rating system, which they announced last month would be scaled back to a resource center. The yet-to-be-named initiative will provide “student-facing information” to help students and families select colleges, said Jamienne Studley, the department’s deputy under secretary.
The tool — which is still slated for a late-summer release — will continue to focus on information pertaining to access, affordability and outcomes, she said.