"Community colleges are uniquely American, places where anyone who walks through the doors is one step closer to realizing the American dream," said Jill Biden, wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
President Barack Obama spoke at the first-of-its kind community college summit Tuesday. President Obama has set a goal of 5 million more community college graduates and certificate-holders by 2020, part of broader push for the U.S. to again lead the world in number of college graduates. "In just a decade we've fallen from first to ninth in proportion to young people with college degrees," said President Obama. "That only represents a huge waste of attention, but in the global market place it also represents to our position as the world's leading economy.
McDonald's, The Gap, Accenture and other U.S. businesses are participating in "Skills for America's Future." The national program will mostly be paid for by the companies. For years, community colleges have been limited to working with local businesses to partner for money and job training.
Students and teachers watched the summit at Chicago's Harold Washington College .
"I believe this summit will make a difference. We're getting support on the national level," said John Harder, teacher at Harold Washington College.
"I think this is a conversation that is long overdue. It's wonderful to see that the government is taking the initiative to address all the needs of all students," said Tommy White, student at Harold Washington College.
"I hope that this whole summit thing is not a whole lot of hot air and that it's actually going to get something done," said Christopher Harris, student at Harold Washington College.
"I am skeptical and I don't know with the banks and the bailouts, but I am hoping he definitely invests the money into the community colleges," said Brittany Vernon, Herald Washington College.
Also at the summit, Melinda Gates announced that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation wills tart a Completion by Design program aimed to improve community college graduation rates that will invest $35 million over five years.
Also, other businesses will join forces to create a $1 million annual prize program to recognize and reward outstanding outcomes in community colleges nationwide.
A recent poll shows more Americans are supporting community colleges, which are filled with laid-off workers and students who might prefer a four-year college but were hit by the hard economic times. According to a report by USA Today, an online survey of 137 families with college-bound children found families were saving less -- or not at all -- and more students plan to attend community college before transferring to a four-year school.
Online ApplyWise and NextStepU poll, according to USA Today:
- Community College: 33-percent families likely to send kids to 2-year school, up from 13 percent in 2008
- College Savings: 1/5 of families have no college savings, 1/5 have less than $5,000.