(Photo Credit: Jason Bache/Flickr)
President Obama today gave a boost to the nation’s community colleges by proposing America’s College Promise, a plan to offer two years of community college tuition-free to responsible students. The plan, if approved, would be good news in California which has the largest community college system in the country. Because of that, the idea is generating some definite buzz across the state.
“We are all excited by this announcement,” said Rita Cepeda, San Jose-Evergreen Community College District Chancellor. “It’s a tremendous impact in terms of the number of individuals that will be impacted positively by this news.”
“President Obama’s proposal underlines the importance of a vital and productive community college system to the future of this country,” said Eloy Oakley, superintendent-president of Long Beach City College and co-chair of the California Economic Summit Steering Committee.
To obtain the two years of free tuition, students must be enrolled in a community college at least half time, maintain a 2.5 GPA and make progress toward completing their program. Cepeda added that the requirements are nothing new to California’s community college students as they these are similar requirements in the state’s Student Success Act of 2012. The cost of the program will be shared with the states, with the federal government covering three-quarters of the average cost while the states cover the other one-quarter.
According to the White House, one of the reasons for proposing this plan is an impending skills gap brought on by the growing global economy. By 2020 nationwide, an estimated 35 percent of jobs will require a bachelor’s degree or higher and an estimated 30 percent will required some college or an associate’s degree. The Public Policy Institute of California predicts that the state will face of skills gap of 1.5 million workers by 2025.
The President also proposed the American Technical Training Fund to expand innovative, high-quality technical training programs similar to one in Tennessee. Cepeda noted, “Both President Obama and certainly California have been focusing greatly on Career Technical Education (CTE). It is not the old ‘voc-ed’ that we used to know. It is very focused, very targeted, high-skilled and high-waged.”
Both proposals have the potential to alleviate economic inequality by offering post-secondary education to students of all income levels, while at the same time bolster a region’s workforce. “There is no way to move from poverty unless you have an education, unless you have a degree or a certificate in a high-skilled, high-wage area and community colleges target the high demand employment in the regions,” added Cepeda.
Community college advocates often cite the fact that the colleges are in every area of California as a reason why they’re important in addressing the regional skills gaps.
“The nation needs to align our workforce with the jobs of the 21st century and nationally, and particularly here in California, the community colleges play a vital and leading role in workforce preparation,” said Oakley. “In California we must bridge the growing gap between the haves and the have nots, and our community colleges create that type of social infrastructure.”
Chancellor Cepeda has seen the impact of the cost of college first hand with students. “When folks say, ‘Well, it’s low tuition anyway,’ I know directly of students who have to choose between a textbook and a utility bill. So, it is tremendously important any time we can bring added resources.”
And, according to Cepeda, the state’s community colleges are ready to put America’s College Promise into place. “We have the infrastructure to handle the greater enrollment and we also have the capability in the way in which we design the curriculum and manage our schedule that we would be ready for this kind of a challenge,” said Cepeda.
To make this proposal a reality, it must go through Congress, a big hurdle, but Cepeda is cautiously optimistic. “I hope, and I have every belief, because this impacts so many families across the nation – the middle class is losing access to education — that folks will try to find a way to get around partisanship and move this proposal forward in some way.”