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Community colleges play critical role in American Graduation Initiative

Higher education, particularly community colleges, has a significant role to play in helping the Obama administration achieve its goal of creating a more educated work force to boost the struggling U.S. economy, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Friday.

“We have to educate our way to a better economy,” he said.  “By 2020, we need to lead the world in college graduates. The jobs of the future will require higher education.”

Duncan was the featured guest on the American Council on Education’s higher education policy webinar on Friday.  Some 1,100 people registered to hear Duncan discuss the Obama administration’s higher-education agenda, which includes a goal of the U.S. having the world’s highest percentage of college graduates by 2020.

To achieve that goal, the administration wants to reduce high school dropouts, simplify the federal application for student financial aid and improve college-completion rates.

Duncan said the administration is also committed to improving underperforming K-12 schools, many of which are found in urban centers. He wants to reduce the number of students in need of remedial course work when they enroll in college.

“We really want to tackle the schools that are struggling,” Duncan said.  “Higher education has a lot of hard work ahead of us.”

President Barack Obama is pursuing this agenda by proposing an unprecedented $12 billion investment in community colleges over the next decade. Under the plan, known as the American Graduation Initiative, Obama hopes to raise the completion rate and tackle other strategic goals.

Dr. Lezli Baskerville, the executive director at the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, said 55 percent of African-American college students attend community colleges and they, as well as low-income students, will benefit from the plan. 

However, Baskerville said the Obama administration should not overlook assisting historically Black colleges and universities.

“I hope we can get some type of federal investment in HBCUs,” she said in an interview with Diverse.

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