Community colleges are main focus of AI Senate bill

Senate Bill That Seeks to Expand Scholarship Opportunities and Professional Development in Artificial Intelligence Places Focus on Community Colleges

The National Science Foundation (NSF) AI Education Act of 2024, introduced last May by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, aims to enhance AI education by establishing several key initiatives and provides a particular focus on the role of community colleges.

The bill states that it “supports community colleges to lead AI education: In coordination with the Regional Technology and Innovation Hub Program (opens in a new window) from the CHIPS & Science Act, this bill calls for creating at least five community college and vocational school ‘Centers of AI Excellence’ across the country. These centers will focus on building upon the best practices for teaching and researching AI and disseminating those practices across the country. These centers will focus on topics like AI education and training, manufacturing, agriculture and more.”

Community college focus

Why are community colleges—often perceived as less academically rigorous or prestigious than four-year universities—the focus of this legislation? The reasons are many and include:

  • Community colleges throughout the country have a mission in common: to advance economic growth and global competitiveness through education, training and services  that contribute to continuous workforce improvement.
  • When at their best, community colleges collaborate closely with regional employers to develop the education and training programs that meet current labor market requirements while also creating a more diverse talent pipeline.
  • Because the demand by industry for skilled workers is so great, community colleges have shifted from a degree-only pathway to a skills-based pathway, which allows learners to more quickly attain the skills they need to join the workforce.
  • Community colleges are more agile than four-year universities because they are focused on workforce training, which requires them to rapidly adjust program offerings based on the changing demands of the labor market.

Overall, the NSF AI Education Act of 2024 seeks to position community colleges as pivotal centers for AI education, leveraging partnerships and funding to build a robust educational infrastructure that can adapt to and lead advancements in AI technology.

Read the bill summary here. (opens in a new window)

Spread of AI

According to Senator Cantwell’s website (opens in a new window) , “The NSF AI Education Act would authorize the agency to award undergraduate and graduate scholarships in AI, quantum hybrid, and quantum, including scholarships focused on the use of AI in agriculture, education and advanced manufacturing. It would create fellowships for professional development for those already in the STEM and education workforce. It would require NSF to work with educators and academics to create guidance to introduce AI skills and education in K-12 classrooms and create Centers of Excellence at community colleges. It would also create grants for AI research, development and training in agriculture through Land-Grant Universities and the Cooperative Extension Service.”

Paul Francis, executive director, Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, states, “Artificial intelligence is booming in every industry and career in America, from education and agribusiness to advanced manufacturing and communications. Senator Cantwell’s proposed NSF AI Education Act of 2024 will help Washingtonians stay on top of the latest AI developments and land well-paying jobs while building a strong and diverse workforce for our state’s high-tech industries. Along with the CHIPS and Science Act, this proposal will help families, communities, and employers thrive with the latest technological innovations.”

For more information about technology programs offered by the Washington State Community and Technical Colleges, please contact:

Brianna Rockenstire


Center of Excellence for Information & Computing Technology


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