* Initiative aims to double graduation rate in 10 years
* Most funds for challenge grants, renovation/building
* Some spending for online learning, stemming dropouts
By David Alexander
WASHINGTON, July 14 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will unveil a $12 billion initiative on Tuesday to boost community colleges and propel the United States toward his goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020, administration officials said.
The 10-year program, which he will announce during a visit on Tuesday afternoon to Macomb Community College in Warren, Michigan, includes a new goal of graduating an additional 5 million students from community colleges over the next decade, double the current number of expected graduates.
Education is the often-forgotten third pillar of Obama’s economic plan and has received far less attention than the other two — healthcare reform and renewable energy.
In a speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in February, Obama warned that the fastest growing fields of employment required more than a high school diploma, while only about half the U.S. population had graduated from high school.
He urged Americans to commit to at least one year of higher education or career training and set a goal of having the United States lead the world in proportion of college graduates by the year 2020.
Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers issued a report on the future of the U.S. job market on Monday that was aimed at bolstering the case for more higher education.
“Well-trained and highly-skilled workers will be best positioned to secure high-wage jobs, thereby fueling American prosperity,” the report said.
“Occupations requiring higher educational attainment are projected to grow much faster than those with lower education requirements, with the fastest growth among occupations that require an associate’s degree or a post-secondary vocational award,” it said.
Community colleges are two-year schools that generally grant associate degrees or training certificates. The annual cost of attendance is around half that of public four-year colleges and universities.
There are more than a thousand community colleges in the United States with more than 6 million students enrolled. Nearly half a million students graduate from community colleges annually.
Deputy Undersecretary of Education Bob Shireman said $9 billion of the funds Obama proposes to spend will go mainly for challenge grants awarded on a competitive basis to encourage community colleges to propose and launch innovative new programs.
Some of the $9 billion would fund programs to address the problem of students dropping out of college.
James Kvaal, special assistant to the president for education policy, said $2.5 billion would be used as seed money to generate $10 billion in renovation and construction at community colleges.
Another $500 million would be used to develop online courses and materials to improve student learning, including artificial intelligence tutoring and multimedia courses, Kvaal said. (Editing by Eric Walsh)