Obama Proposes $8 Billion for Job Training at Community Colleges

Barack Obama Jobs
President Obama during a tour of Stromberg Metal Works Inc. in Beltsville, Maryland. Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/Bloomberg

The Obama administration will propose an $8 billion, three-year plan for shoring up career programs at community colleges to help train 2 million people for the workforce.

The plan, to be administered by the Education and Labor departments, designates funds in the 2013 budget to establish training courses for skilled careers, develop partnerships between the schools and employers, and help state and local governments attract businesses, according to an Education Department statement.

Shrinking state budgets and increasing numbers of unemployed people in the wake of the recession that began in 2007 have strained community colleges. The funding would help colleges accommodate more students in need of job skills, said David Baime of the American Association of Community Colleges in Washington.

“It looks pretty darned good at this point,” said Baime, the association’s vice president for government relations, in a telephone interview. “At this scale, these resources could have a real benefit in helping colleges meet the demands of the workforce and the expectations that people have of them.”

The association represents about 95 percent of the 1,200 community colleges in the U.S., Baime said. About 8 million students take courses for credit at community colleges each term, and an additional 5 million take non-credit courses, according to the association.

Technical Skills

Many Americans looking for work lack the experience to fill positions that require technical skills, such as in health care, advanced manufacturing, energy, and information technology, the Education Department said. Employers in the science, technical, and engineering fields frequently report that they need more trained workers, said Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center in New York.

“This is an area where investment of resources could be useful,” Bailey said.

The program, called the Community College to Career Fund, will pay to expand training and certification programs at community colleges for growing employment fields. It will also support internship programs for low-income community college students, according to the statement.

States will be allowed to apply for funds to help businesses increase workers’ skills. The plan also calls for online courses in entrepreneurship for small-business owners to be offered through community colleges.

Lack of Funds

Over the next three years, an additional $1.5 billion will go to extending programs that help train and find employment for workers who have been hurt by international trade agreements, according to the statement.

Community colleges have been hurt by a lack of funds for buildings and equipment needed to teach specialized courses for highly skilled jobs, said Karen Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College, which has two campuses in the county just west of Philadelphia. The college’s budget was cut 10 percent last year, and it hasn’t had new funds for building in four years, she said.

While she would like to expand her college’s programs for health-care workers and nuclear engineering technicians, they require equipment and specialized instructors she can’t currently afford, Stout said.

“It sounds like this program matches up exactly with those needs,” said Stout, who hadn’t seen all the details of President Barack Obama’s plan.

Obama in Virginia

Obama will unveil the program later today at Northern Virginia Community College, in Annandale, Virginia, the Education Department said. Later this month, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and Vice President Joe Biden’s wife Jill Biden will travel across the country to recognize community colleges and businesses that are working together to train and employ workers.

Obama in 2009 proposed a $12-billion, 10-year-plan to support community colleges that Congress cut to $2 billion. State budget cuts have fallen hard in California, where in the 2009-2010 academic year, 133,000 first-time students couldn’t get into any course as community colleges cut offerings, according to a statement from Jack Scott, California Community Colleges Chancellor, in a statement Feb. 1.

“Those trends of terrible fiscal situations and surging enrollments are still there at community colleges,” said Bailey at the Community College Research Center.

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