The White House is pledging $100 million to expand workforce training programs at community colleges, building on President Obama’s goal of making tuition at community colleges free.
Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, will announce the grant program Monday at the Community College of Philadelphia, a school that adopted the tuition-free model championed by the administration last year. Biden and his wife, a professor at Northern Virginia Community College, have advocated for the model, visiting schools and hosting roundtable discussions with elected officials as well as college and business leaders.
In the administration’s latest initiative, grants will be awarded through the Labor Department to partnerships between employers, training programs, and community and technical colleges aimed at readying students for skilled occupations. Award recipients must extend tuition-free education to unemployed, underemployed and low-income workers to enter industries that require skilled labor. The employers with which they partner will help students attain apprenticeships or paid internship experience.
“These kinds of partnerships can help tens of thousands of students get the education and skills training they need to succeed in good-paying, middle class jobs,” Biden said, in prepared remarks. “I’ve traveled the country and seen first hand that these kinds of programs are preparing students for jobs in industries like IT, health care, cybersecurity and energy. These are the kinds of investments that will allow us to outcompete the world.”
Although Obama has struggled to gain support in Congress for his $60 billion tuition-free proposal, dubbed America’s College Promise, the concept has been embraced by some states, municipalities and individual community colleges. Nearly 30 new programs have been rolled out since the president announced his plan last year, including statewide programs in Oregon, Minnesota and Rhode Island.
A majority of these programs require students to have graduated from high school, maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average and complete the federal financial aid application to qualify aid to cover all other college expenses.
The programs frequently feature incentives encouraging students to take a full load of courses and are designed to ensure credits are transferable to reduce the likelihood of remediation if students want to earn a bachelor’s degree. Those new programs represent more than $70 million in public and private investments to serve about 40,000 students at community colleges.
As a part of the Recovery Act, the administration set aside $2 billion to fund the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College Training Grant Program that largely reflects the goals of its latest grant competition. The trade program has supported partnerships with nearly 2,500 employers to provide training for jobs in information technology, health care, energy and advanced manufacturing. Nearly 300,000 participants have enrolled to day and earned 160,000 credentials.
The nation’s 1,100 community colleges educate more than 7 million students, who are often minorities, first generation college students and come from low-income families. Tuition and fees for full-time, in-state students at two-year schools cost less than $3,500 on average, according to the College Board. But housing, books, transportation and other living expenses drive up the cost to about $7,230 on average, after grants and scholarships.
“With these grants, students will be able to attend these programs tuition free—so they can use their Pell Grants and other financial aid to pay for books, supplies, childcare, transportation, and other living expenses—instead of having to go into overwhelming debt,” Biden said.
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