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When it comes to preparing workers for available and emerging jobs, President Barack Obama continues to spotlight community colleges as the linchpin.
During his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday, Obama said that he wants to provide two million Americans with the skills they need to land available jobs. He noted that good jobs exist, even in the current economy, but employers cannot find workers with the right skills.
“It’s inexcusable,” Obama said.
The president noted a partnership with Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) in North Carolina and Siemens. He cited how Siemen's employee Jackie Bray, who was sitting in the First Lady’s box during the congressional address, enrolled at CPCC to prepare for Siemens’ pre-hiring test. In August 2011, after finishing the course and passing the test, Bray was hired as a process operator at the company.
Siemens “paid Jackie’s tuition and then hired her to operate their plant,” Obama said.
The president also linked community colleges to his push for more alternative energy, which he said can serve as a new American industry. He noted Bryan Ritterby, who was laid off from his Michigan furniture manufacturing job in 2009. Ritterby enrolled in Grand Rapids Community College’s composite technician training program, in conjunction with a new start-up company, Energetx Composites. When he completed the program in 2010, Ritterby was hired by the company, which builds wind turbines. (Ritterby was also a guest of the First Lady during the address.)
Obama said similar partnerships between community colleges and local manufacturers exist in Orlando, Fla., and Lousiville, Ky., among other places across the country. The president wants community colleges to serve as “community career centers,” and aims to simplify current federally funded job training programs.
Obama also called on state and higher education institutions to curtail tuition increases, and asked Congress to extend tuition tax credits and double the number of work-study jobs in the next five years.
Hitting the road
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will promote the president’s vision when he visits Florida this week. He will highlight the administration’s work to make college more affordable and strengthen postsecondary education so students can find good jobs.
On Wednesday, Duncan will meet with students and local leaders at Tallahassee Community College in a town hall-style event to discuss ways to encourage job creation by strengthening postsecondary career and technical education. The next day, he will travel to the Miami area to talk about making college more affordable during an event with students, parents and local officials at a local high school.
A call for state reforms
State leaders are also zeroing in on education, and in particular community colleges, as part of their efforts to rekindle the economy. Over the past few weeks, several governors have announced high-profile initiatives that include community colleges.
In Oregon, Gov. John Kitzhaber wants the legislature to require school districts, community colleges and universities to sign annual "achievement compacts" to improve student outcomes. He said the compacts would connect state funding to those outcomes.
Last week in Illinois, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon called for statewide education reforms to help community college students complete a credential. She also proposed to tie some state funding to student outcomes. In addition, Chicago Mayor and former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel earlier this week outlined his plan for his city’s community colleges to better align with industry needs to foster workforce and economic development. He encouraged other mayors to do the same.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, during his annual State of the Commonwealth address this week, said he wants to unify the state’s community colleges to better address the skills gap and help fill 120,000 jobs available in the state.
“For the work they do, community colleges rarely receive proper recognition, let alone adequate funding,” Patrick told a group of business and education leaders in Boston on Tuesday. “I have visited their campuses and seen their good work. They are an important resource and we must ask more of them. I believe community colleges are uniquely positioned to help close our skills gap and get people back to work.”
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