How About a Summit about Distance Learning, Mr. President?

Barry Lenson

President Obama launched a new educational initiative this week. Called Skills for America’s Future, it aims to build ties between businesses and community colleges.

Here’s how President Obama describes what Skills for America's Future is all about . . .

“The idea here is simple. We want to make it easier to connect students looking for jobs with businesses looking to hire. We want to help community colleges and employers create programs that match curricula in the classroom with the needs of the boardroom. We’ve already seen cases where this can work. Cisco, for example, has been working directly with community colleges to prepare students and workers for jobs ranging from work in broadband to health IT. And all over the country, we know that the most successful community colleges are those that partner with the private sector. So Skills for America’s Future would help build on these success stories by connecting more employers, schools, and other job training providers, and helping them share knowledge about what practices work best. The goal is to ensure that every state in the country has at least one strong partnership between a growing industry and a community college. Already, companies from UTC to Accenture to the GAP have announced their support for this initiative, as well as business leaders like my friend Penny Pritzker and the Aspen Institute’s Walter Isaacson.  I hope other business leaders will follow suit, and I’m also setting up a taskforce to work directly with the business community on this effort.”

The ball kept on rolling. On the following day, October 5, Dr. Jill Biden hosted the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges, described on the official site as, “An effort to bring together community colleges, business, philanthropy, federal and state policy leaders, faculty and students to discuss how community colleges can help meet the job training and education needs of the nation’s evolving workforce. Leaders from Skills for America’s Future will be leading a breakout session during the summit to discuss best practices for building robust, successful partnerships.”

On the morning of the summit, Melinda Gates appeared on NBC’s Today show and talked about the role that community colleges should play in the lives of students. “These are students that you don’t think of, non- traditional working students,” she said. “They’re working students, they often hold down two jobs, they have a child.” She added that Skills for America could help those students “complete community college and get a job in the economy.”

It all sounds very positive to us. But we need to ask a question. Mr. President, when will there be an initiative and a summit about distance learning? If you really want to anticipate the trends and support Americans as they seek affordable access to higher education, the time would be now.


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