Anyone who works or studies at a community college had to stand a little taller after listening to President Obama’s State of the Union address last night. The president made clear the important role that community colleges can and should play in the lives of those seeking a foothold in the middle class.
He related the story of a young couple, battered by the recession, who got back on their feet through hard work, sacrifice and the wife starting on a new career after retraining at a community college. The president also restated his proposal to lower the cost of community college to zero because “in a 21st century economy that rewards knowledge like never before, we need to do more” to educate America’s workforce.
Like my fellow community college leaders, I am awaiting the release on Feb. 2 of the president’s budget, when the details of the proposal will be revealed. But the realities underpinning his proposal are clear today. Forty percent of U.S. undergraduates attend a community college.
By the end of the decade, it’s estimated that two of three jobs will require some postsecondary education. And while community colleges such as PCC are a very affordable educational option, for many the cost of attending college is substantial.
One of the best aspects of the plan is that it rewards achievement. Students would qualify as long as they maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average. Another commendable part of the proposal is that students of all ages will benefit, not only recent high school graduates. This is especially relevant for PCC, where the average age of our students is 27.
Clearly, debate over the proposal is going to be spirited and likely will spark many competing approaches aimed at having more students attend and complete some form of postsecondary education and training. However, the mere fact that we will have a robust conversation is a significant step forward. I stand with all those who serve at community colleges to assure decision-makers that the investment in our students, and our nation’s future economic vitality, is well worth it.
To read a letter sent to the members of Congress by American Association of Community Colleges’ President/CEO Dr. Walter Bumphus and other higher education leaders: Community Colleges Leaders to Congress 1 21 15