Obama plugs community college during Mich. trip

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 - 8:26pm

At the first stop of his administration’s nationwide Back-to-School tour Wednesday, President Barack Obama returned to Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich. to champion increased access to affordable education and vocational training.

WARREN, Mich. — At the first stop of his administration’s nationwide Back-to-School tour Wednesday, President Barack Obama returned to Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich. to champion increased access to affordable education and vocational training.

Traveling with Dr. Jill Biden, a community college professor and the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, the president discussed his administration’s efforts to expand funding for apprenticeships and promote initiatives to make community college free.

“I want two years of community college to be as free and universal as high school is today,” Obama said.

Before Obama began his 26-minute speech, Biden — who has taught at a community college for more than 20 years — touted the Obama administration’s focus on education, citing investment in early childhood education and efforts to increase the number of students graduating high school and attending college.

During her speech, Biden announced she would serve as chair of the College Promise Advisory Board, a new independent commission composed of community college leaders, policymakers, businesses and foundations that will explore ways to expand existing programs that provide free two-year college degrees.

During his State of the Union address in January, Obama proposed a $60 billion program that would guarantee qualified students two free years of community college. The plan has yet to gain traction in Congress.

Biden said students face decades of debt and that it’s hard to get ahead in the workforce when Americans are struggling to keep up.

“If we want all Americans to succeed in the 21st century we need to make sure that all students at all ages have the best education possible,” she said.

Obama also announced the board’s plans to launch Heads Up America, a public campaign designed to garner support for the nation’s community colleges.

Obama also discussed his support for apprenticeships and training opportunities as a means of making America more competitive within the world economy. He argued Americans must be able to adapt and improve their skills.

“Everything is moving too fast and if you don’t have the skills to get the new jobs and you don’t have the knowledge to adapt and be creative, you’re going to fall behind,” Obama said, noting a study that found workers who completed an apprenticeship made $300,000 more than their peers over a lifetime.

“Upgrading your skills pays off,” he added.

The Obama administration is pledging $200 million to promote apprenticeships and training opportunities, with the Department of Labor awarding $175 million in grants to 46 public-private partnerships that have committed to expanding high-quality apprenticeships.

“This is a concrete way to reduce the cost of higher education for young people, to improve the skills of workers so they get higher paying jobs, to grow our economy,” Obama said. “It shouldn’t be controversial.”

The president will continue to speak about affordable education over the next week and a half, with First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joining him at later tour stops.