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Jobs plan would fund college renovations, job training

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President Barack Obama talks with Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) prior to entering the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol to pitch his jobs plan.
Photo: Pete Souza/White House

​Community colleges would receive
$5 billion to repair and modernize their campuses under President Barack Obama’s nearly $450-billion plan to create jobs and kick-start the economy.

Rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure—from schools to transportation—is a cornerstone of the president’s plan. Many of the nation’s 1,200 public two-year colleges were built during the great expansion of the 1960s and 1970s and now need repairs and upgrades—estimated at about $100 billion—to train workers in high skill jobs.

"Infrastructure continues to be a major need for community colleges, and with state budgets deteriortating further, this proposal is a tremendous opportunity to upgrade community college capacity and create jobs," said James Hermes, director of government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.

Under the plan, states would receive funding based on their community college student enrollments. States would then disperse the funds at their discretion.

Colleges could use the funds for major classroom renovations, from plumbing upgrades to modernizing science labs, as well as making buildings more energy efficient to reduce utility bills. The funds could not be used for new construction.

State-by-state impact of the president's plan

“Investing in modernizing community colleges fills a key resource gap, and ensures these local, bedrock education institutions have the facilities and equipment to address current workforce needs in today’s highly technical and growing fields,” according to a White House outline of the president’s plan.

White House officials said the president will send proposed legislation to the Hill next week and then will hit the road to promote the plan.

The job training angle

The proposal, called the American Jobs Act, would also fund activities for adult education and job training, which would include public two-year colleges. It would provide $5 billion toward a Pathways Back to Work Fund to make it easier for workers to remain connected to the workforce and gain new skills for long-term employment, including summer and yearround jobs for youths.

Local officials—in partnership with community colleges, local workforce boards, businesses and other partners—could apply for funding to support promising strategies, according to the White House. They include:

  • Sector-based training programs designed to meet the specific requirements of industry sectors whose member employers commit to hiring individuals when they complete the training.
  • Acquisition of industry-recognized credentials in a field identified by the state or
    local area as a growth sector or high-demand industry.
  • On-ramps to hiring that connect unemployed workers to immediate jobs and provide needed skills training and other supports.
  • Career academies that provide students with the academic preparation and training to pursue a career pathway that leads to postsecondary credentials and high-demand jobs.
  • Free evening and weekend basic computer training classes, adult basic education and integrated basic education and training models for low-skilled adults, hosted at community colleges or at other workforce-partner sites to prepare individuals for jobs.

The president’s plan to focus on investing in repairing and improving the nation’s infrastructure—from highways ($27 billion), to rail ($11 billion), to airports ($2 billion)—would also affect community colleges, which would train many workers for those jobs. It would also include $50 million to improve employment and job training opportunities to help minorities, women and economically disadvantaged individuals in transportation-related activities, such as construction, contract administration, inspection and security.

A call to arms

During his speech before Congress last Thursday, Obama noted that the U.S. has in the past used federal investments specifically to spur projects to improve the economy.

“Where would we be right now if the people who sat here before us decided not to build our highways and our bridges; our dams and our airports? What would this country be like if we had chosen not to spend money on public schools, or research universities, or community colleges?” Obama said.

Several of the ideas presented in the plan have been pitched in previous plans:

  • The president’s initial $10-billion American Graduation Initiative would have, in part, created a $2.5 billion fund for renovating community colleges.  But funding constraints prompted lawmakers to drop AGI. However, the Obama administration and community college advocates successfully championed for $2 billion to help community colleges with their workforce efforts.
  • The plan for youth and adult training is based on the program initiated under the president’s stimulus bill, which provided more than 367,000 summer job opportunities in 2009 and 2010.  
  • The transportation infrastructure is an idea the president and the U.S. Department of Transportation has been promoting for several years, noting the nation’s infrastructure is in prime need of repairs.

Not so fast

Republican leaders said they liked that the president was focusing on creating jobs, but in general they are cool to the idea of spending more to do it.

“At its core, education is a jobs issue, and we must encourage policies that help prepare today’s students to join tomorrow’s workforce,” John Kline (R-Minn.), chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said in a statement. However, he added: “More stimulus spending is not the right solution to our nation’s jobs crisis.”

Regarding federal job training programs, Kline noted the current system’s inefficiencies and that his committee is looking to streamline those programs and make them more effective. 

“I’m pleased the president recognizes we need a better trained workforce if we want to boost our country’s standing in the global marketplace,” he said. “We all know, however, that an effective job training system provides little comfort if there are no jobs available for America’s workers.”

Republicans are expected to present their own jobs plan soon.

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