Plan Could Bring $12 Billion to Community Colleges

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WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama is proposing a multibillion-dollar investment in the nation's community colleges, a $12 billion effort to help the two-year institutions reach, teach and train more people for "the jobs of the future."

Obama was outlining his four-part program in a speech Tuesday afternoon at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich.

Under the initiative, schools could qualify for "challenge grants" so they'll have money to try new programs, or expand training and counseling.

Dropout rates would be addressed by designing programs to help students who want to earn an associate's degree or transfer to a four-year institution do so.

Money would be spent to renovate outdated facilities or build new ones, and to develop online courses and make them freely available to students and others who want to use them.

The total federal cost is $12 billion over a decade. Of that, $9 billion would go toward challenge grants and addressing dropout rates. Half a billion, or $500 million, would go toward online education. The remaining $2.5 billion would be used to spark $10 billion in renovation and construction nationwide, said James Kvaal, an Obama economic policy adviser.

Some of the money could be available by the 2010 budget year that begins Oct. 1.

Obama speaks of expanded education and job training as a way to help workers compete for jobs such as those expected in the clean energy industry, when the economy turns around and begins to create jobs again instead of shedding them.

"In an economy where jobs requiring at least an associate's degree are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college experience, it's never been more essential to continue education and training after high school," Obama said Sunday in a Washington Post op-ed piece.

"It's time to reform our community colleges so that they provide Americans of all ages a chance to learn the skills and knowledge necessary to compete for the jobs of the future," he said.

Community colleges have been feeling pinched lately. Enrollments have been increasing for several reasons, including rising college costs at public and private institutions, and because of the economy, as people who've lost jobs enroll to learn new skills.

About 6 million students currently attend community college, administration officials said. Obama is setting a new goal of 5 million additional college graduates by 2020, Kvaal said.

In his speech to a joint session of Congress earlier this year, the president urged every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training.

Obama's stop in Michigan will be his first visit to the state since he defeated Republican Sen. John McCain there in the presidential election.

The trip wasn't all about policy, however.

Before returning to the White House, Obama, an athlete who is more into basketball and, lately, golf, was dropping into Busch Stadium in St. Louis to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Major League Baseball's annual All-Star game.

It will be his first pitch as president. Obama skipped traditional opening day invites.
     
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.

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