In his annual State of the Union address on January 24, President Obama emphasized economic issues, providing his blueprint for building the economy and keeping the American dream alive. One of the key components of his strategy relies on community colleges to develop new partnerships with business to train two million skilled workers. The president envisioned a streamlined workforce system with a single website designed to help individuals seeking to attain the training needed to fill current and future job openings.
One of the individuals recognized by the president during his State of the Union address was Jackie Bray, a single mother who had been laid off from her job as a mechanic. Obama talked about the successful partnership in North Carolina between Central Piedmont Community College and Siemens that enabled Bray, seated next to First Lady Michelle Obama during the speech, to obtain the laser and robotics training needed to secure employment. The company not only paid her tuition but helped the college design the curricula to prepare her for this new career. The president said he wanted “every American looking for work to have the same opportunity as Jackie did.”
With model partnerships in other locations, Obama continued, “Now you need to give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers—places that teach people skills that local businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high tech manufacturing.” He also called on Congress to simplify the workforce system and turn the current “unemployment system into a reemployment system.”
Education was another theme in his address, with the president calling on states to require all students to stay in school until they graduated from high school or until they turned 18. Acknowledging the tight budgets states were facing, he emphasized the importance of teachers in helping kids succeed. He also called on states to make higher education a greater priority in their budgets.
Obama called on Congress to extend the tuition tax credit, increase support for college work-study, and stop the student loan rate increase (the interest rate is scheduled to double in July). But he also stated that the federal government could not continue to “keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition” and that higher education needed to keep costs down. He applauded efforts to help students accelerate their programs and other creative ways to reduce overall college costs but said, “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down. Higher education can’t be a luxury….”
More details are expected when the president’s FY 2013 budget is unveiled on February 13.