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How a National Alliance of Community Colleges Could Move the Country Forward

Rebuilding America's Middle Class plans to advocate for workforce development, innovation, and affordability at community colleges.

With an increasing number of recent high school graduates—and more experienced workers seeking to brush up on their skills—looking for affordable education options, community colleges have become a key to educating the workforce of the future. But despite increased demand—13 million students a year attend community college, up 9 percent since 2006—the recession has slashed community college budgets. Now, those schools are banding together to form Rebuilding America’s Middle Class, a nonprofit national coalition that plans to advocate for increased support for community colleges.

Students' ability to earn an affordable professional certificate or degree through a community college education is a critical part of building America's middle class. The average student can earn a professional certificate in a year for as little as $1,500, a crucial factor for the large number of low-income students of color who attend community colleges. Staying in school to earn an associate's degree or enough credits to transfer to a four-year school costs the average student between $7,000 and $8,000—less than half the cost for the same classes at most public four-year colleges. And those certificates and college credits qualify students for higher paying jobs.

Yet thanks to budget cuts, schools are being forced to take drastic measures simply to keep the lights on. Reeling from millions of dollars in cuts over the past few years, California's Santa Monica Community College faced harsh criticism for a recent plan to charge students four times more to take core classes because increasing the cost would make it much more difficult for low-income students to attend. SMCC was forced to abandon the proposal after the California attorney general declared it illegal, yet it's clear that schools need radical solutions to keep meeting student's needs.

The RAMC hopes to foster collaboration between community colleges and elevate their role in national education discussions through political advocacy. To that end, the group's inaugural meeting this week in Indianapolis will feature elected officials from Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels to Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, which is committed to boosting college graduation rates. If they're successful, the coalition won't just boost community college graduation rates, but support the entire country's educational goals too.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user dave_mcmt

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