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Community Colleges: The Backbone of Our Public Workforce System

Jane Oates, Assistant Secretary for the Employment and Training Administration at the Department of Labor, explains why those focused on getting Americans to work are excited about the White House Summit on Community Colleges.

The White House Summit on Community Colleges on October 5th is exciting for so many reasons.  For those of us who have spent decades in education, it's the first time that community colleges have been recognized at a presidential level.  And more importantly, it is being hosted by Dr. Jill Biden, a stellar educator who has chosen to proudly be community college faculty.  For a recovering teacher it doesn't get much better than that.

So why would we at the Department of Labor be so excited about a Community College Summit?  Our system of Career One Stop Centers are a great resource to help guide workers towards new career pathways and to help them find future employment, but the community colleges are the backbone of our public workforce system.   Through our close partnerships with the community college system, we prepare our workforce for lucrative job opportunities that can lead to life-long careers in high growth and emerging industries such as healthcare, technology and clean energy.

For example, this year alone, we awarded $125 million in Community-Based Job Training Grants to 41 community colleges and organizations across the country. Our goal through those grants is to help workers prepare for and secure good jobs.  More than 156,474 individuals have received education and training through these grants.  Community colleges are helping get America back to work.

To put these CBJT grants in perspective, here are a handful of local examples of how through our partnerships with community colleges, local participants are benefitting from new job skills and already finding jobs:  Navarro College in Texas has teamed with North Central Texas College to create a program that will educate, train, and certify skilled workers for the Texas energy industry. Over 1,300 individuals have received training through this grant, and over 550 have entered employment.  And at Saint Paul College (MN), workers are preparing for employment in clinical laboratory and medical lab technician occupations.  To date, 510 participants have enrolled in training, and 106 have entered employment.  And there are so many more.
Our community colleges are as diverse as the communities they serve -but they are all committed to helping this country reach the President's goal of at least one year of post-secondary education for everyone.  Their proven track record in offering state of the art industry recognized credentials and a variety of degrees make them the logical choice for job seekers and employers who are looking for high quality academic and occupational training. 

On October 5th we will hear about the promising work of those in attendance, but it's important that we learn from more than just those in DC.  Anyone who wants to participate can go to to post a comment, send in a video, or ask a question. 

We've also created a special online White House forum for others to participate during the summit, and will be live-streaming the opening and closing sessions.

The Department of Labor and the Department of Education have partnered on a number of important initiatives in this Administration, but none is better than our work with community colleges. Getting all students the quality education that they need to achieve their dreams of degree attainment and a solid career is a shared goal of our departments.  The White House Summit on Community Colleges is a fantastic step to move our nation toward that goal!

Jane Oates is the Assistant Secretary for the Employment and Training Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor