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Posted: July 29, 2009 12:30 a.m.

AGI funds may benefit local 2-year colleges

American Graduation Incentive to help drive up graduation rates

President Obama is planning to give a $12 billion boost to two-year colleges, and Georgia Perimeter and DeKalb Technical colleges hope they’ll be on the receiving end next year.

During a July 14 speech, Obama unveiled his American Graduation Initiative, which seeks to increase the number of two-year college graduates by 5 million by 2020; currently about 1 million graduate.

The AGI is still in the proposal stage, and the Washington Post reports that it is planned to be included as part of legislation increasing the amount of money awarded through federal Pell Grants; if legislation is passed later this year, Obama officials said they hoped money would begin being distributed next year.

The main part of the AGI is the $9 billion that will be given out as part of a competitive grant program, which will encourage colleges to create innovate programs to enhance education and graduation rates.

"We'll fund programs that connect students looking for jobs with businesses that are looking to hire," Obama said in his speech. "We'll challenge these schools to find new and better ways to help students catch up on the basics, like math and science, that are essential to our competitiveness. We'll put colleges and employers together to create programs that match curricula in the classroom with the needs of the boardroom."

Virginia Michelich, GPC vice president of Academic and Student Affairs, said she is excited about the AGI, because it places emphasis on the importance of community colleges.

"There has been a lot of emphasis in the past several years to increase access to college, but now the emphasis is on success. Getting them is not the hardest, but making sure those students are successful, retention, is the hardest. We want to make sure they go on in school or get a good job and have a good life," Michelich said.

Michelich said the grants were also exciting because GPC has a couple of newer programs which could really use additional

funding. She said they just developed an advising program, because studies show that students are more successful when they have that constant guidance.

"But we have 23,000 students and our program doesn’t reach students as effectively as it needs to; the grant would help develop that," Michelich said. "Obama also focused on remedial education, which we call learning support, and we want to emphasize that more. There is a lot of research about the kinds of things that students need to do (in order to be successful) and we’re ready to do it, but those kinds of things take resources. I can’t wait to see (the president’s final) proposal."

DeKalb Tech is also hoping to be involved, and Tanya Gorman, vice president of academic affairs, said the timing is good because the majority of future employment opportunities and jobs will require only an associate degree or equal certification, not a bachelor’s degree.

Obama said jobs like medical technicians, health IT workers, lab specialist, solar panel installers, wind turbine builders and nurses are examples of associate degree jobs that are expected to increase significantly in upcoming years.

Gorman said that DeKalb Tech should qualify for the grant program, but the program and application process are not fully formed.

The AGI also plans to provide $2.5 billion for construction and renovation projects at community colleges and $500 million for the creation of more and better online courses, which would be made freely available to two-year colleges.

The AGI would be paid for by the money saved by reforming the student loan process.

"And let me be clear: we pay for this plan by ending the wasteful subsidies we currently provide to banks and private lenders for student loans, which will save tens of billions of dollars over the next 10 years," Obama said.

Critics have said that there is no money for more immediate needs like teacher and staff salaries and other overhead costs.

A message left with a White House media relations employee was not returned.

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