Allocating $8 billion in federal funds to the nation's community colleges for career development and training makes good economic sense.
President Obama wants to create a Community College to Career Fund to prepare up to two million workers in the health-care, transportation, and high-tech manufacturing fields. His proposal would also increase the maximum Pell Grant for college students by $85 - a small amount, but enough to help many students struggling to pay tuition.
The proposed funding in Obama's 2013 budget is his latest attempt to put more emphasis on community colleges, which enroll some of the country's neediest students. Unfortunately, the funding has already been threatened by House budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), who said it would leave the country "drowning in debt."
It should be remembered that Ryan, a frequent critic of Pell Grants, is the same congressman who suggested to a college student in October that instead of relying on grants he should do what Ryan did - work three jobs to pay for college. The congressman is to be congratulated on his work ethic, but if he believes it is a model for success in college for everyone, he is sorely mistaken.
Investing in job training at community colleges is a crucial step to putting more Americans in better-paying jobs. Community colleges have seen record enrollment amid the higher tuition and costs at private and public four-year universities. When matched with the needs of local employers through apprenticeships and interships, community colleges become the perfect vehicle to train a highly skilled workforce.
Since taking office, Obama has made education a priority. But he has had mixed results in several previous attempts to secure more funding for community colleges. In 2009, Obama sought $10 billion for a job-training plan to produce more community-college graduates, but got just $2 billion. Last year, Obama proposed $5 billion for community colleges to improve their facilities, but hasn't secured the funds.
A key component of Obama's latest community college plan would institute a "pay for performance" incentive program to ensure that career-training students actually find permanent jobs. It also would promote training of entrepreneurs, provide grants for state and local governments to recruit companies, and support paid internships for low-income students.
There couldn't be a better time to emphasize community colleges' role in reducing unemployment. They will be key to filling some of the two million vacant manufacturing jobs expected through 2018, mainly due to baby-boomer retirements. Congress shouldn't want to be an impediment.