Obama says education a key to economic rebound
WARREN, Mich. – Conceding unemployment will get worse before it shrinks, President Barack Obama on Tuesday unveiled a $12 billion plan to help community colleges prepare millions of people for a new generation of jobs. Challenging critics, he said he welcomed the task of turning around the economy.
“I love the folks who helped get us in this mess and then suddenly say, ‘Well, this is Obama’s economy,’” the president told an outdoor crowd at Macomb Community College. “That’s fine. Give it to me. My job is to solve problems, not to stand on the sidelines and harp and gripe.”
Obama did not identify his target for those comments, but he has been under increasing fire from Republicans over the pace of the economic recovery and the soaring deficit. He brought his message to a state reeling from the loss of auto jobs. Michigan’s unemployment rate is 14.1 percent, the nation’s worst.
“The hard truth is that some of the jobs that have been lost in the auto industry and elsewhere won’t be coming back,” Obama said. “They are the casualties of a changing economy.”
To that end, he proposed an “American Graduation Initiative” to bolster the two-year community college field that serves millions of students as a launching point for careers or a step toward expanded higher education. The idea is to train people 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.
Under the plan, competitive grants would be offered to schools to try new programs or expand training and counseling.
High dropout rates would be addressed by designing programs to track students and help them earn an associate’s degree or finish their education at a four-year institution. Money would also be spent to renovate and rebuild facilities, and online courses would be developed to help colleges offer more classes.
The White House says the cost would be $12 billion over 10 years; Obama says it would be paid for by ending wasteful subsidies to banks and private lenders of student loans.
“Time and again, when we have placed our bet for the future on education, we have prospered as a result,” Obama said.
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a former education secretary, said Obama’s plan is a “typical proposal” that sounds better than it is. “When our biggest problem as a country is too much debt, he’s taking the entitlement spending he claims to be saving from the student loan program and adding it to the debt,” Alexander said.