Community colleges are the unsung heroes of our education system. They prepare today's workers for tomorrow's careers, and they get little support and even less recognition for their efforts. For millions of Americans, the local community college is the gateway to the American Dream.
But the American Dream is more than access to college. It's about a complete education and the better future that comes with it: a steady income, a rewarding career, a home in a nice neighborhood where you'd want to raise your family.
Increasingly, to achieve those goals, students have to get a college degree or a professional certificate after high school. According to every measure -- employment rates, wage premiums, labor forecasts -- students who get those credentials can seize opportunities that those who stopped their education with high school can't.
In 1973, only about one-quarter of the American workforce needed a postsecondary degree or credential in order to get or hold on to a job. In 2007, that figure hit 57 percent. New research predicts that, by 2018, 63 percent of jobs in America will require an education beyond high school. Unable to find enough skilled workers here, U.S. businesses are outsourcing millions of high-skill, high-wage jobs to Germany, Japan, Singapore, Korea and Canada.
That's why, at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of our top goals is to increase the number of young people who earn a credential or degree after high school -- and to increase that number dramatically. Because that is how they will set themselves up for a successful future.
This week at the White House, I met with, listened to, and learned from students, educators, and policymakers about how we can strengthen community colleges to meet these goals. It was fascinating, especially hearing from students about their goals and the obstacles they face.
I'd love to hear from more community college students. How did you make it through? What kind of support did you need to succeed? What could your school have done differently to help? What are you doing now?
The foundation has partnered with GOOD for the video, above, celebrating nontraditional students. Go to GOOD and submit your story.
I want to hear from you, because you have the firsthand knowledge about how to make community colleges work for young Americans.
Follow Melinda Gates on Twitter: www.twitter.com/melindagates