While community colleges appreciated the shout-out they received during President Obama’s recent State of the Union address, most say that to accomplish what the president is proposing will take more resources than they currently have. Even the schools that currently have programs in place similar to those the President proposed said they could do much more if they had more – from state and federal governments. While it remains to be seen whether additional funding will come, the first step – raising awareness for the important role community colleges play in today’s employment scene – was accomplished through the President’s speech.
What the President Said
According to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, President Obama focused on the plight facing many hard-working Americans who are unable to “enjoy the American Dream” the way previous generations have. The Presidents referred to the problem as “the defining issue of our time,” and stated in his speech, “We shouldn’t settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by.” The president called for “an economy where everyone gets a fair shot and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”
To that end, the President touted community colleges as one of the key players in putting America back to work. Obama stated in his address that community colleges were at the forefront of worker training programs across the country, and called for many of these schools to ramp up their partnerships with area businesses to create “community career centers,” where residents could train for jobs currently available in their regions. Obama also pledged to provide “more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers.”
A Shining Example
During the address, Jackie Bray, a single mother from North Carolina, took the coveted seat beside First Lady Michelle Obama. After getting laid off from her job as a mechanic, Bray attended Piedmont Community College to obtain the necessary training so she could land a good job at a Siemens gas-turbine factory in her community. When the company was unable to find skilled workers to man their plant, they partnered with Piedmont to offer the precise training program necessary to gain skilled workers. The company even paid Bray’s tuition and then hired her right out of her training program. Today, she is a process operator at the plant.
“I’m just a girl who had a really big dream to work for the most amazing company on the planet and I’m living that dream every day and I can’t explain how much that means to me,” Bray told WCNC.
The plant, Siemens Charlotte Energy Hub, has also benefited by gaining a slew of highly skilled workers that have the precise training the company needs to put them to work right after school.
“We’re proud to be an example of manufacturing in the United States success in making jobs and working with our own community college and university system to train our folks to be able to take these jobs,” Mark Pringle, vice president at Siemens, told WCNC.
Other Schools Offer Similar Programs
According to The Intelligencer, community colleges and technical schools within the Ohio Valley area have been providing similar training offerings as Piedmont Community College for some time. For example, schools like West Virginia Northern Community College, Belmont Technical College and Eastern Gateway Community College have been providing specialized training for in-demand industries like casino operations, coal mining and drilling.
Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City has also been working with local businesses to provide programs that retrain workers on the latest technology. However, the school has seen funding dwindle in recent years, even as enrollment numbers have skyrocketed. This puts a strain on the college’s ability to offer the most up-to-date training facilities and instructors possible.
“It’s critical because I will tell you our state appropriation due to state resources is shrinking,” Deborah Goodall, Business and Technology President at MCC, told Fox4. “These high-tech programs are very expensive. It’s very expensive to get and keep qualified instructors that can make so much more in the industry.”
Chicago community colleges also have career training in place. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel applauded the President’s State of the Union address, telling the Chicago Sun-Times, “The President gave a great speech tonight. As he outlined his vision for the country, I am pleased that he mentioned strengthening our nation’s community colleges as a way of providing our young people a ladder to the middle class. Chicago is leading the way in that effort with our College to Careers program, linking our community colleges with partners in industry to provide students the skills they need to compete.”
Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan, is another school struggling to provide to a growing and more diverse student population. According to miNBC News, the school population has grown by 500 students a year since 2008, with a total of around 12,000 students today. While the school strives to provide a practical education to students that will “put food on the table and pay the rent,” Mott officials admit it would help tremendously to receive more state and federal funding to meet their goals.
Community colleges continue to be a focus for the current administration dealing with a sluggish economy and high unemployment rate. However, more money would make the job of these schools much easier, and at this point, no one seems sure where the much needed funding will come from.