Obama Campaign: Community Colleges And American Competitiveness

This week surrogates from the Obama and Romney campaigns will discuss education policy issues here. Below are earlier posts from both campaigns. This is a post by Melody Barnes, former Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, on behalf of the Obama campaign:

This election is about the challenges facing our economy, and President Obama knows that community colleges must be part of the solution.  That’s why he’s investing in America’s world-class network of community colleges to prepare men and women for middle-class jobs in industries that will ensure international competitiveness.   And President Obama will bring together community colleges and employers, training 2 million Americans for good jobs that exist.

President Obama took office during the worst economic crisis in a generation.  But we’ve gone from losing 750,000 jobs a month, to the private sector creating over 5 million jobs over the past 31 consecutive months. In the face of widespread layoffs and downsizing, many Americans turned to a community college to train for a new job or update their skills to keep the job they have right now. Knowing the importance of our community college system, the Obama Administration invested wisely to help keep tuition down and classes available so community colleges could welcome new students in droves.

But the President knows there’s more to do. In places like Iowa and Pennsylvania there are businesses looking to hire, but not enough workers with the skills to do the job. Community colleges play an important role in addressing the skills gap, and the President’s plan to strengthen them is timely. An estimated 20 million jobs through 2018 will require workers with an occupational certificate or two-year associate’s degree, and community colleges will help American workers prepare to fill those jobs.

President Obama has set a big education goal as part of his economic agenda.  By the year 2020, America must once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.  Our economic vibrancy is dependent upon that goal.  According to a recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute, if America fails to produce more college graduates by 2020, we will have 1.5 million too few graduates to meet the demands of our economy.  Fortunately, because of President Obama’s leadership, we’re already making progress.

The President is working with community colleges to improve job training programs that set a goal to prepare two million people – including veterans and dislocated workers – for good-paying jobs in fast-growing industries such as advanced manufacturing and aerospace.  And, public-private partnerships are training and connecting workers with jobs in emerging industries like clean energy and biosciences, information technology and health care.

In addition to helping community colleges meet the demand, the President is making sure all students can afford tuition.  He doubled funding for Pell Grants, helping to make college affordable for nearly 10 million students across the country.  He created the American Opportunity Tax Credit that provides families a tax credit worth up to $10,000 over four years of college, and he capped student loan payments at 10 percent of income for responsible borrowers.  As soon as this year,1.6 million students will be able to select colleges based on career goals and not just by the price of tuition.

Actions speak louder than words, and it’s clear that President Obama, Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden – a community college teacher – support America’s community colleges as a gateway to a stronger middle class and a stronger economy.  Mitt Romney’s actions reflect a very different record and vision.

In his first year as governor of Massachusetts, Romney made deep budget cuts to higher education, cutting investments in community colleges by more than 17 percent and slashing financial aid. By the end of his only term, fees at community colleges had increased by more than 30 percent, and in 2006, the cost to attend community colleges in Massachusetts was 59 percent higher than the national average.

As a presidential candidate, Romney shared his college affordability plan; he told students and families to “shop around.”  And by selecting conservative Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney embraced Ryan’s extreme budget that would shortchange students while cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans. The Romney-Ryan budget would slash funding for Pell Grants for nearly 10 million students and let the college tax credit expire.  Finally, Romney would repeal President Obama’s student loan reforms that reinvested savings in our nation’s community colleges to instead put billions of tax payer dollars back into pockets of big banks.

President Obama believes that investing in the American people is the key to our economic prosperity. That’s why he’s fighting for community colleges and clear pathways to employment. Ultimately, he knows that well trained and well-educated American workers make American businesses the best in the world.

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