The White House proposed a massive effort to retrain workers on Tuesday by strengthening our nation’s community colleges and creating five million additional college graduates by 2020.
Speaking at Macomb Community College in Michigan, President Obama stressed the importance of education to America’s prosperity, and announced the American Graduation Initiative which seeks to help an additional 5 million Americans earn degrees and certificates in the next decade by increasing Pell Grant scholarships and funneling $12 billion into the aging 2-year college system.
Time magazine said graduates of 2-year programs earn 30% more compared to high school grads and give “a 16% return on every dollar state and local governments invest, making them one of the best tools we have to pull ourselves out of the recession”.
Obama insisted the funding would be deficit neutral, “We pay for this plan without adding to the deficit by ending the wasteful subsidies we currently provide to banks and private lenders for student loans.” Traditional school loan programs earn banks billions of dollars in revenue. With a direct loan program supervised by the government, that savings can go directly to fund the initiative.
The president called his proposal the most significant upgrade to community colleges since the GI Bill and President Truman’s Commission on Higher Education, which helped to double the number of community colleges and increase enrollment in those colleges seven-fold.
Enrollment at the nation’s Community Colleges already totals more than 6 million students and has been increasing at more than three times the rate of four-year colleges. They feature affordable tuition, open admission policies, flexible course schedules, and convenient locations, and they are particularly important for students who are older, working, need remedial classes, or can only take classes part-time.
Vocational schools are also capable of working with businesses, industry and government to create tailored training programs to meet needs in the fields of nursing, health information technology, advanced manufacturing, and green jobs, and of providing customized training at the worksite. For example, Cisco’s Networking Academy is working with community colleges to train students throughout the country on technology-based jobs and it is expanding this platform to train for broadband infrastructure and health care information technology.
Congress would need to approve the influx of federal cash for two-year colleges — which received $1.9 billion in funding in 2006.
The American Graduation Initiative will pay for new innovations and reforms to meet some of the problems in the system, such as its dismal 50% completion rate. Performance-based scholarships and funding formulas based on student progress will be used to bolster completion rates, as well as support groups and extra investment in tracking student progress.
- Build partnerships with businesses and the workforce investment system to create career pathways where workers can earn new credentials and promotions step-by-step, worksite education programs to build basic skills, and curriculum coordinated with internship and job placements.
- Expand course offerings and offer dual enrollment at high schools and universities, promote the transfer of credit among colleges, and align graduation and entrance requirements of high schools, community colleges, and four-year colleges and universities.
- Improve remedial and adult education programs, accelerating students’ progress and integrating developmental classes into academic and vocational classes.
- Modernize facilities: To keep up with jobless Americans clamoring to be retrained, $2.5 billion will be used to modernize community college facilities and add classroom space. A fund would be set up to catalyze an additional $10 billion in facility investment from local industries that need proper training of their future employees.
- Create a new online skills laboratory: Online instruction can also be a powerful tool for extending learning opportunities to rural areas or working adults who need to fit their coursework around families and jobs. Open online courses will create new routes for students to gain knowledge, skills and credentials. The Departments of Defense, Education, and Labor will work together to make the courses freely available through community colleges.