Chairman’s Corner: Community Colleges

Yesterday, Deborah and I had the privilege of attending Dr. Jill Biden’s White House Summit on Community Colleges.  President Obama who conceived of this summit, led the opening session, highlighting the immense importance community colleges play in America’s commitment to lifelong learning.

Community colleges are aptly named given the essential role they play in providing affordable and accessible education for local communities, but they also play a unique role in supporting our military communities as well.

With this in mind, I was pleased to co-moderate a discussion following the President’s remarks among administration officials, student-veterans, educators and advocates on the role community colleges play in the lives of our service members and their families.

When you look at the numbers the impact is hard to miss:  Of the approximately 44,000 college degrees earned by Department of Defense personnel and their family members, 29,000 were associates degrees, a staple of the community college system.  Even more impressive, more than 271,000 students are now enrolled in educational programs using the post-9/11 G.I. Bill, with most of them attending community colleges due to their affordability and flexibility.

The one thing that really came across for me in our session, however, was the need to help vets better make the transition from combat to college.  Several students told us that there simply weren’t vet-friendly support programs in many of these schools — not for lack of desire on the part of school administrators, but rather lack of funding and experience.

Our veterans bring to the college campus a wealth of wisdom and dedication, but they also have needs and face challenges that younger, non-veteran students do not.  At the end of our panel, I think we all agreed that much more can and should be done across the government and private sector to address these challenges.

And I think that sort of teamwork will prove critical.  Because educating a veteran or a family member doesn’t just improve the potential of an individual.  It improves the potential of our entire country.

- Adm. Mike Mullen

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