Community College to Career Fund elevates higher ed in Obama budget
Tag college completion, Community College to Career Fund, community colleges, department of education, department of labor, georgetown university, higher education, Jim Rice, national council for higher education, Northern Virginia Community College, obama administration, Pell Grants, Perkins Loans, Quinsigamond Community College, student loans, Virginia
by Mary Ellen Flannery/official White House photo above by Lawrence Jackson
The setting was auspicious on Monday, February 13, when President Obama chose the backdrop of Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) to deliver his proposed 2013 federal budget.
“I’ve been here so many times, I’m about three credits short of graduation,” joked Obama, as students looked on and cheered. “But there are a couple of reasons I keep coming back…the main reason is that this institution is an example of what’s best about America.”
For Obama, the backdrop wasn’t just symbolic. As he unveiled his budget proposal, which includes a whopping $8 billion for community colleges and more aid for poor college students, it became clear that the President was delivering a message: He’s serious about his commitment to public higher education. He believes in its power to transform the lives of students and to restore the economic health of this nation.
“The truth is that the skills and training you get here,” Obama told students on Monday, “will be the best tool you have to achieve the American promise, the promise that if you work hard you can do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your own kids to college, and put a little bit away for retirement.”
In order to make good on that promise, Obama put forward an $8 billion “Community College to Career Fund,” to train 2 million workers for well-paid jobs in high-demand areas like health care, transportation, and advanced manufacturing. Co-administered by the Department of Education and the Department of Labor, the fund would provide money to schools that partner with businesses on job-training programs. As an “incentive,” more money would be available to states and schools that can prove their graduates are getting jobs.
To Jim Rice, a Massachusetts community college professor and president of NEA’s National Council for Higher Education, it’s great to see community colleges finally get the recognition they deserve. “We’ve been like the best-kept secret in the country for years!” he said.
There is no one factor more important in a community’s economic health than the very existence of a community college, said NEA economist Richard Sims. Not only does that college provide jobs to the people who work there, but it also provides a pathway to the middle class for its students —and at a great discount.
Despite the numbers of out-of-work Americans, there are well-paid jobs out there for skilled workers. A recent Georgetown University study shows that, by 2018, this country would need 22 million more workers with college degrees, but likely would fall short by 3 million. “And that’s not something (this country) can afford,” said the authors.
The President agrees. “We can’t cut back on those things that are important for us to grow,” he said Monday.
There’s also no doubt that community colleges could use the additional support. “We’ve been systematically defunded by the states for the last 10 years,” says Rice, pointing to figures that show a 7 percent decline last year in state funding overall for public higher education. (At the same time, demand for classes has grown—which means too many schools have been left in the miserable position of turning students away.)
But Rice also points out that the application of “incentives” or “accountability measures” to higher education isn’t as simple as it sounds. “Community colleges can do this work. We can—and have been for years—training and retraining workers for jobs in our communities,” he said. “Whether students are successful is something that the people on the ground can best determine.”
At his school, Quinsigamond Community College, students have benefited from partnerships between the college and local telecommunications companies and health agencies, he said.
The President’s budget also included an $85 increase to the maximum Pell Grant, and an as-yet-unclear restructuring of the Perkins Loan program. As he has before, he called on Congress to extend the 3.4 percent interest rate on federally subsidized student loans, which is due to expire in July. And, additionally, Obama also proposed a 1.5 percent increase in federal spending on research, which could greatly benefit research universities.
Click here to send an email urging Congress to pass a budget resolution that reflects the President’s emphasis on education as a top priority.
The Obama administration is leading the charge to help students finish college. Read More