Today, President Obama is set to unveil a plan to provide $12 billion to community colleges. Given the emphasis on the President's other priorities like health care and cap and trade, education has received little press coverage thus far. Although some might debate whether the federal government ought to continue to ramp up its spending, if it's determined to do so, I think it's hard to argue against an initiative like this.
Fox News' White House blog has, by far, the most informative take on this new imitative that I found. So check that out if you want more detail. According to Fox, this spending would be part of the 2010 budget. It will be spent over 10 years.
Reuters also reports on Obama's plan, and explains his likely rationale through a report that his economists issued on Monday:
"Well-trained and highly-skilled workers will be best positioned to secure high-wage jobs, thereby fueling American prosperity," the report said.
"Occupations requiring higher educational attainment are projected to grow much faster than those with lower education requirements, with the fastest growth among occupations that require an associate's degree or a post-secondary vocational award," it said.
For a while now I've been an advocate for encouraging community college as an alternative to four-year college, for young people who might not have career goals where a four-year degree is necessary. If this funding makes community college a more attractive alternative for some, then I think that's a good thing. A step like this shouldn't affect anyone best suited for four-year college, as that's still generally an option after completing a 2-year associate's degree.
A few months ago, I attended a roundtable discussion at the National Association of Manufacturers. Training to obtain more skilled workers in the U.S. was one of their top priorities. In the current educational climate, it seems that most high school students either seek four-year college or nothing, giving little thought to community college or vocational schools. That's a problem for manufacturing, as skilled jobs are in high demand within the manufacturing industries where the U.S. still competes.
This initiative might also help the President in another way. If more people are pursing their associate's degree, in a bad economy, that lowers unemployment. Students are not considered unemployed. So over the next few years, which will be tough, with more Americans sitting in community college classrooms, the employment picture will look better. That's not entirely smoke and mirrors, however. Once the economy starts to really grow again, that might be just in time for some of those freshly minted community college graduates to take advantage of new jobs in a better market.