Story by Noor Alahmadi, Editor in Chief
Panelists focused on the increasing importance of community colleges at the South by Southwest Education summit held March 10 at the JW Marriott Austin.
The seminar on Re-Designing Higher Education for Student Success aimed to boost awareness on how schools can increase graduation rates and gave students a unique opportunity to share their own ideas and experiences about strengthening college opportunities.
“I went to the University of Massachusetts in Boston with a scholarship that I had believed would cover tuition,” Valerie Inniss, a student panelist said. “But it only covered two-thousand dollars with thirteen-thousand in hidden fees.”
Innis said had she known about all of the scholarship, advising and counseling options available to her at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, she would be in better financial shape and on a more clear-cut path to graduation. Ultimately she left the school to transfer to the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
In addition to student panelists like Innis, education experts on the panel discussed alternatives such as online learning, reducing required credit hours and the importance of utilizing community college education.
Dr. Jill Biden, second lady of the United States, gave the keynote speech on the heels of the panel discussion. Biden is a community college teacher of 20 years and an educator of 30 years. In addition to stressing the importance of a college education, she expressed her love of teaching at community college and stressed its importance as a stepping stone for higher education.
“I think making community college free would make us better as a nation,” Biden said. “In the next ten years, two out of three job openings will require a college degree.”
Gavin Payne, director of the United States Program Advocacy and Communications for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, spoke about his organization’s role in promoting community colleges.
“We have a challenge as a foundation. When someone says college, they think of a four-year institution.” Payne said. “There are a lot of ways to get there and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wants to make these paths more accessible to students.”