Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Community Colleges Need School Modernization Funds

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By Mary Ellen Flannery

It’s hard to prepare students for 21st century careers when they’re sitting in 20th century classrooms, laboratories, and job-training facilities at aging community colleges across the country.

That’s why educators like Derrick Griffey, a math instructor at Gadsden State Community College in Alabama, so strongly support President Obama’s Fix America’s Schools Today (FAST) Act, which includes $5 billion for modernizations at colleges with two-year programs.

“For us, I think modernization is the key word,” said Griffey. “Like many community colleges across the U.S., we’re sitting in buildings that were constructed in the ’50s and ’60s that are simply inadequate for the demands of the future.”

These days, it’s not likely that a high school diploma alone is going to win anybody a job in a competitive, highly skilled market. It’s going to take specific job training, the kind provided by publicly funded community colleges.

The issue has not escaped notice in the White House. Last month, Obama’s administration awarded nearly $500 million in grants to community colleges for job training, especially to help disadvantaged workers who are changing careers.

“Lighting a spark — that’s what community colleges can do… and that’s the reason that I’m here today,” said Obama, at Northern Virginia Community College earlier this year. “We’ve got to light more sparks all across America, and that’s going to make a difference in the futures of individuals who are looking for a better life, but it’s also going to make a difference in America’s future.”

Griffey points to Alabama’s car manufacturing industry’s use of complex robotics, computer technology, and industrial engineering technology as an example where community colleges can play a leading role in career preparation. “Many of our students can be prepared by our two-year programs to exceed the expectations of these high level manufacturers,” he said, but “facilities and infrastructure are a key part of the puzzle.”

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, where writing instructor Kirsten Dierking teaches at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, she says, “I have heard of situations where students can’t use the latest software in their fields because the computers are too old to run the new software.”

That’s the promise offered by the Fix America’s Schools Today (FAST) Act, which you can urge your representatives in Congress to support here.

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