Obama Announces $12 Billion Community College Initiative

By Michael D. Shear and Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 15, 2009

WARREN, Mich., July 14 -- President Obama came to this economically struggling state Tuesday with a sobering message about its vanishing jobs and a promise of renewal through a new federal investment in community colleges.

But that message was up against rising unemployment -- 14 percent -- and rising frustration. A Detroit newspaper welcomed Obama to the state with a scathing editorial, calling the administration's stimulus package a "failed experiment."

Obama refused to concede that point during his speech at Macomb Community College, where he said part of the answer to recovery is also in a new focus on community colleges. His proposed American Graduation Initiative would pump $12 billion into community colleges and add 5 million new graduates by 2020. The program, he said, would offer training to millions of students who cannot afford four-year universities and opportunity to older workers who need new skills.

"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. "If you haven't lost a job, chances are you know somebody who has: a family member, a neighbor, a friend, a co-worker."

Education is the way forward, the president told his audience in this Detroit suburb.

"Time and again, when we have placed our bet for the future on education, we have prospered as a result -- by tapping the incredible innovative and generative potential of a skilled American workforce," the president said.

As the national unemployment rate has steadily risen, the White House has come under increasing pressure to explain why the president's economic policies are not translating into better news for workers.

Before Obama's arrival in Michigan, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) issued a statement that said Democratic economic policies "will strangle even more small businesses and destroy millions more jobs. That's not what middle-class families want -- in Michigan or anywhere else in America."

Earlier, in the White House, Obama defended the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, saying: "We've made investments that early on have allowed a state like Michigan to lay off fewer teachers, fewer cops, fewer firefighters. Those are all jobs that would have been lost in the absence of the recovery package."

In Michigan, Obama hit back at critics, such as Boehner, who he said "carp and gripe" from the sidelines.

"I love these folks who get us in this mess and then suddenly say it's Obama's economy," he said. "That's fine. Give it to me. I welcome the job."

Obama's new higher-education initiative includes $2.5 billion for construction and renovation at the nation's community colleges, $500 million to develop new online courses and $9 billion for "challenge grants" aimed at spurring innovation at the colleges.

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