Congress Should Not Stonewall President Obama's $8 Billion Community College Initiative

To members of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), President Barack Obama’s latest call for a national commitment to increase funding for our community college system and train two million workers must have seemed like Ground Hog Day.

In his State of the Union address, Obama laid out plans for a national commitment to enhance economic growth through training two million workers with skills that will lead directly to a job. The administration has repeatedly noted, “Our business community claims it has nearly two million job openings which it cannot fill due to a lack of qualified individuals.”

The budget unveiled by President Obama on Monday included $8 billion in funding for a "Community College to Career Fund" with the goal of training workers in areas such as health care, transportation, and high-tech manufacturing.

Unfortunately, for Americans and its community colleges, the President has been requesting similar funding since 2009. The 2009 “American Graduation Initiative,” actually requested $10 billion in funding to be directed to our community college system. Holding majorities in both Houses and flush with $800 billion allocated in the stimulus package, Obama’s request ended up with only $2 billion in funding.

President Obama has repeatedly sought to expand resources for community colleges. The community college system is the main source of education and job training for most low-income Americans. Community college-based training programs have for decades provided the training to meet the needs of employers for workers with certified training and skills, apprenticeships, and other on-the-job training opportunities.

The proposed federal funding request would also be used to develop paid internships for community college students. Internships remain an effective way to transition new employees into the work force while they earn credit in their academic field of study.

While few dispute the economic value of our nation’s community college system, their cries for assistance continue to largely fall on deaf ears in Congress.

It is ironic both parties in Congress agree, America needs to expand our workforce. Unfortunately, neither party is willing to fund our community college system to make this bi-partisan point of agreement a reality.

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