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Blog: Innovation and Reinvention on Display at America's Community Colleges


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Last month, I announced $500 million in new grants to colleges around the country through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College Career Training program. Since then, I've visited 16 community colleges in 13 states; from St. Petersburg to Seattle, Connecticut to California, Vermont to Arizona, and just about everywhere in between. And I have to be honest with you… it has been good for the soul.

These grants are helping to expand innovative local, regional, and national partnerships. And let me tell you, the innovation currently on display at these community colleges is nothing short of amazing. I've never met a more determined, driven group of Americans than the students I've met over the last month.

I met bright-eyed, 18-year-olds fresh out of high school. They're too young to remember a day when going to class involved things like chalkboards and hand-written notes. They're working in radiology labs outside Seattle learning to upload X-rays into a patient's electronic medical files, and in hybrid car labs learning how to repair the engines that power the cars of the future.

I met soldiers returning from the battlefield in the Middle East, who are making the often too difficult transition back to civilian life. They protected us from enemies abroad and are now learning to protect the integrity of turbine generators at sensitive facilities run by the Tennessee Valley Authority. It made me feel secure knowing that these heroes continue to watch over us here at home.

I met students from all walks of life who are working, raising kids and going to school because they want more. They want more responsibility on the job, more money in the bank, more stability in their career, and more opportunities to create a better future for their families.

I met unemployed folks, who had lost their jobs when their plant closed or their position moved overseas. They weren't dwelling on the past, they were looking to the future. They were hard at work in a robotics classroom, an optics lab, or an advanced materials shop learning skills they couldn't have imagined when they took that first factory job 20 years ago.

They were reinventing themselves.

And they had real confidence that the education they were getting was going to take them to a better place. That's what is unique about today's community colleges. The programs we're funding are a direct response to unmet workforce needs in the local community. So students aren't just getting a certificate, a degree and a sense of accomplishment when they graduate; they're getting the skills they need to excel in jobs with local employers from day one.

In the cities I visited--and in hundreds more across the country--we're seeing what happens when we make smart investments in community colleges to bring together employers, educators, workforce professionals, industry experts and non-profit groups to train our modern workforce. These investments pay off.

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