By Donald Guy Generals

Community colleges have become a kitchen-table topic for Middle America. President Obama's surprise proposal during his State of the Union speech to provide free tuition for students willing to work hard began a conversation about the value of community colleges to our economy and the overall health of our communities.

In Pennsylvania, the president's speech was followed by Gov. Wolf's proposal to increase community college funding by $15 million. That amounts to about $1.9 million for Community College of Philadelphia. The proposal represents the value the governor places on education and job training. Completing that circle of support is Mayor Nutter's proposal to increase the city's contribution to Community College of Philadelphia by nearly $3.4 million ($1.4 million would be dedicated to much-needed capital improvements). These efforts will result in CCP not raising tuition for a second year.

The historical context that is often referred to in the free-tuition debate centers on the evolution of the community college in our nation's history as the democratizing force behind our pursuit of a more perfect union. Like the comprehensive high school a hundred years ago, community colleges have expanded this nation's middle and upper middle class.

Driving the funding proposals by our governor and mayor is the recognition that community colleges are central to any hope of addressing the long-term structural problems of our economy. We now recognize that existing jobs and jobs of the future will require some level of higher education and training. Jobs that are available to those with a high school diploma are rare, pay very little, and, quite frankly, are fading fast.

Today's in-demand jobs in the manufacturing, service, and health-care sectors require education and training in a variety of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. And almost all jobs require good communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and an aptitude for functioning and succeeding in a work environment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are nearly five million jobs nationwide waiting to be filled by those with a postsecondary degree or credential.

A postsecondary credential can be defined as a two-year degree or a short-term certificate. In some cases, the certificate can be structured with the flexibility to facilitate a student's transition into a job or further study toward a college degree. Referred to as stackable credentials, they take into consideration the realization that any credential should prepare students for changing technology and workforce environments.

At Community College of Philadelphia, we do not, nor will we, bifurcate job training from the essentials of good thinking, proper communication skills, or problem-solving. Our business and industry partners have stressed the importance of this - and fundamental to our curricular approach is the blending of the two.

Support for the proposals put forth by the governor and mayor is critically important to any goal of expanding the city's economy and related employment opportunities. The proposed funding will enable us to support student success and completion, and will allow us to further support existing programs while expanding others consistent with the local and regional economy. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the state and city proposals would reduce students' large revenue burden.

The funding proposals for CCP and other community colleges are extremely important and represent much-needed dollars for the success of our students in today's economy.