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A million-dollar prize for community college smarts

At the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges on Tuesday, the Obama administration will announce a new million-dollar annual prize to "recognize, reward and inspire outstanding outcomes" in the two-year colleges.

The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence will spotlight "outstanding performers and rising stars" in the areas of student completion and workforce training, as well as those who share successful practices and develop ways to assess outcomes in two-year colleges, according to a White House release.

The Aspen Prize will launch in spring 2011 and announce the first winners that fall.

It's one of three large initiatives to be highlighted at the summit, an event staged to promote discussion on how the nation's community colleges can contribute toward the national goal of regaining the world lead in college completion by 2020. The administration calls for an additional 5 million community college graduates by then.

The other initiatives:

1. Completion by Design, a Gates Foundation project that offers $35 million in competitive grants to groups of community colleges that find innovative ways to raise completion rates. Fewer than one-quarter of community college students earn degrees or certificates in a timely fashion, according to federal data.

(Disclosure: I was reminded this morning that Melinda Gates, co-founder of the foundation, serves on The Washington Post Co. board.)

2. Skills for America's Future, a series of "high-impact partnerships" between industry, labor unions and community colleges to yield more graduates with specific job training.

Obama described the program in remarks Monday:
"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."

Gap, the clothing store chain, announced itself Monday as one of several industry partners; the others include McDonald's and United Technologies. The Gap program will roll out in seven markets, including Washington, with partnership efforts that include "in-store job shadowing, interview and leadership training, and scholarships," according to a release. The chain expects to hire as many as 1,200 students through the program in 2011, or about 5 percent of its annual hiring, and will make its training materials available to community college students nationwide.

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By Daniel de Vise  | October 5, 2010; 1:01 AM ET
Categories:  Community Colleges, Public policy  | Tags:  Aspen Prize, community college summit, community colleges, obama community colleges  
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Next: Guest blog: Community College Summit should stress aid, tuition

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