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2009 October 21 - 12:00 am

In Seattle, Kanter Outlines Community College Vision

SEATTLE (AP) — The U.S. undersecretary of education spent a recent Wednesday in Seattle learning from Western Washington business and education leaders. They gave her an earful.

After a long day of tours and speeches, about 60 community college officials and business representatives met with Martha J. Kanter on the Georgetown Campus of South Seattle Community College. Nearly every Puget Sound area college was represented at the invitation-only discussion.

Kanter offered her vision and goals for the U.S. Education Department’s community college initiatives, with an emphasis on improving college and high school graduation rates.

“We need to look ahead to see what four or five things we need to do to help more kids graduate from high school and college,” Kanter said.

Institutions around the nation have already created programs that work, she said, but one of the problems is that the education world exists in silos and not enough sharing of great ideas is happening. For nearly every question or comment from the audience, Kanter gave an example of a successful program.

On connecting the unemployed with educational opportunities, she advised taking a closer look at programs in Michigan. On online access to education 24 hours a day, she spoke about computer training in Washington state, common curriculum programs and opentextbook.org.

But, she added, “We have not come up with good ways to scale up what works.”

A proposed new government program that would offer millions of dollars to support innovative community college programs that might help with the scaling up of good ideas, she said. A bill to create such an incentive program is currently moving through Congress.

President Barack Obama has proposed spending $12 billion over the decade to enhance community college education. Of that, $9 billion would go toward challenge grants and addressing dropout rates. Half a billion, or $500 million, would go toward online education. The remaining $2.5 billion would be used to spark $10 billion in renovation and construction nationwide.

She said colleges may also be able to get a share of the federal stimulus project for K-12 education by partnering with school districts for “Race to the Top” money for innovative projects.

Kanter encouraged the college officials to keep sharing their ideas with her.

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