Federal Proposal Would Give $9 Billion to Community Colleges

Article excerpt

A plan to pump billions of federal dollars into the two-year college system is "the most far-reaching legislation in the history of community colleges," said Alex Johnson, president of the Community College of Allegheny County.

Fellow presidents of community colleges in Butler, Westmoreland and Beaver counties say nothing like it has been considered since President Harry Truman called for a national network of community colleges.

"I'm very excited about it," said Nicholas "Nick" Neupauer, president of Butler County Community College.

The proposal is part of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which passed the House in September. Pending before the Senate, the bill includes the American Graduation Initiative, which would provide about $9 billion of direct assistance to community colleges, said David Baime, vice president for government relations for the American Association of Community Colleges.

Such federal efforts to aid community colleges never occurred before, said Martha J. Kanter, undersecretary for the Department of Education.

The bill proposes that community college officials be held accountable for student success, develop methods for measuring that success, graduate more students and help graduates obtain jobs, Baime said from his Washington office.

"We have something like 56 percent of the work force in our area who never went beyond high school," said Joe Forrester, president of Community College of Beaver County. "The economy is creating jobs where at least 60 percent of people need education beyond high school, and ultimately we'll need 80 percent. So this initiative is really an economic development initiative."

Particularly enticing is money for developmental classes -- such as reading, writing and math courses for people without college- level skills in those areas -- said Dan Obara, president of Westmoreland County Community College.

That would enable students to keep up in nursing programs, for example, because they require relatively high aptitudes in basic skills, Forrester said.

The act's aspirations dovetail with the goals of Westmoreland's community college, Obara said.

"It's striving for better completion rates, retention rates and graduation rates," he said. "Right now, we're conducting those initiatives from existing funds."

Competitive grants would allow schools to provide more programs and classes in general, Johnson said. That would be especially good for Community College of Allegheny County, which has its highest enrollment ever in credit classes at 20,677 students, he said.

Establishing more welding courses would be the first thing CCAC student Amanda Nolder, 25, would do with the bill's money.

"It'd be nice, because every class you try to sign up for seems to be full," said Nolder, of Elizabeth, who holds a 20-hour-a-week work-study job in the college's welding department.

Nolder is notable because of who she represents in American society, said Barmak Nassirian, spokesman for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers in Washington. …