As high unemployment rates and company downsizing have left many Americans discouraged and unsure of the future, community colleges across the country have experienced a tremendous surge in enrollment over the past few years, with a diverse range of students, from high school graduates to older, displaced workers, all seeking marketable skills to survive in a competitive economy.

With open admissions policies, affordable tuition, flexible schedules, and remedial classes, education experts say community colleges fill a gap in the educational pipeline for many people who would otherwise be locked out of the higher education system, especially minority, low-income, and first-generation college students.

In October, the White House recognized the critical role these institutions play in the higher education system by holding the first-ever Summit on Community Colleges. The event brought together college administrators, faculty, students, and business and philanthropic leaders, as well as federal and state policymakers.

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