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President Barack Obama is proposing a three-year, $8-billion Community College to Career Fund to help public two-year colleges and businesses train two million Americans for jobs in high-demand industries, such as health care, advanced manufacturing, clean energy and information technology.
Speaking Monday at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC), Obama said the new initiative proposed in his fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget would help community colleges train workers for high-skill jobs that are currently available, but for which many applicants are not qualified. He added that such skills training is essential to help with the country’s economic recovery and global competitiveness.
“In this economy, we should not have any job openings. They should all be filled,” Obama said.
Statement from the American Association of Community Colleges and other FY13 budget information
The president noted that community colleges offer career paths for Americans seeking new job opportunities in growing industries. He cited a student at NVCC who lost two jobs in the housing industry before enrolling to study cyber security at NVCC. He has since earned two certificates and is working toward his associate degree—while working as a limo driver.
“We need more stories like Mike’s,” Obama said, referring to the student.
Later this month, Dr. Jill Biden, who teaches English at NVCC, will embark on a three-day bus tour of community colleges in Kentucky, Ohio, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to highlight effective community college-industry partnerships.
“We have to make these (college-business partnership) examples a model for the entire nation,” Obama said, referring to campuses along the bus tour.
Other members of the Obama administration will also visit community colleges and promote promising partnerships and practices, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Priority areas for the fund
The proposed Community College to Career Fund—co-administered by the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education—would focus on job training-related efforts, such as registered apprenticeships and other on-the-job training opportunities, as well as paid internships for low-income community college students that allow them to simultaneously earn credit for work-based learning in a high-skill field.
States could seek funding through the program to support employer efforts to upgrade workers’ skills, such as training programs whose graduates earn a credential and find quality jobs shortly after finishing the program.
“Pay-for-performance structures would provide stronger incentives for programs that effectively place individuals who face greater barriers to employment,” according to a White House summary of the proposed fund.
Additionally, the fund would provide support for regional or national industry sectors to develop skills consortia to identify urgent workforce needs. The groups would develop strategies such as standardized industry certification, development of new training technologies and collaborations with industry employers to define and describe how skills can translate to career pathways.
The proposal would also serve about 5 million small business owners over three years, providing programs such as a six-week online training course on entrepreneurship that could reach up to 500,000 new business owners, and an intensive six-month entrepreneurship training program that could certify 100,000 small business owners.
Proposed Pell increase
The president’s comprehensive plan to improve workers’ skills calls to better align K-12 and postsecondary initiatives, from improved teacher preparation to more dual-enrollment programs. It also seeks to expand access by increasing the Pell Grant maximum by $85, to $5,635, which would help nearly 10 million students pursue higher education. The president also wants to make permanent the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which students use to cover expenses such as tuition, fees and textbook costs. The credit is set to expire this year.
“In these tough budget times, the Obama administration is making a clear statement that high-quality education is absolutely critical to rebuilding our economy,” Duncan said in a statement regarding his department’s budget. “If we want to strengthen the American workforce, we must continue to invest in education.”
In terms of other new proposals, the budget includes previously announced reforms to federal campus-based aid programs that would shift aid away from colleges that fail to keep tuition down and toward colleges and universities that keep tuition affordable, provide good value and do a good job serving students in financial need. The budget also details a proposed $55 million initiative to increase college success and completion and improve educational productivity through an evidence-based grant competition.
Many of the other Education Department programs that reach community colleges—from TRIO and GEAR UP, to adult basic and literacy education state grants—would be level-funded for FY13.
Refocused job training
Regarding job training, the president is seeking some additional funding and program reforms to address increases in demand for such programs. The number of people served through federal job training programs has increased from 2 million in FY06 to almost 10 million in FY11, according to administration officials.
To meet the demand, Obama wants to double the federal Workforce Innovation Fund to $100 million. The program, which is co-run by the Departments of Labor and Education, aims to standardize performance measures across programs, provide data to improve training programs and share information about promising practices. (In FY11, the program was appropriated $125 million before having funding cut to $50 million in FY12.)
Other Labor-funded job training programs for dislocated workers, adults and youths would not see increases under the president’s proposal. The National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education program would also be level-funded at $64 million for FY13.
The Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration noted that it plans to track how well its training programs are helping Americans earn industry-recognized credentials. It aims to increase the number of workers earning such credentials through federally funded programs by 10 percent by September 2013.
Long road ahead
Community college advocates appreciate the administration’s support and continued efforts to try to secure more federal assistance for workforce development. However, given election-year politics and a focus to trim federal spending, they realize any new programs may be a tough sell with Congress. Many of proposals would also first require congressional approval before they could be funded.
Several college leaders noted that the proposed program reminded them of the previous American Graduation Initiative, which the president proposed in 2009. That $12-billion program was supposed to help community colleges graduate more students with credentials and work more closely with business and industry.
However, after congressional wrangling, the initiative was scaled down to $2 billion and refocused to train Americans who lost their jobs overseas. The administration has already invested $500 million through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training initiative, with another $1.5 billion to be distributed over the next three years.
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