President Barack Obama is proposing a multibillion-dollar investment in the nation’s community colleges, a $12 billion effort to help the two-year institutions reach, teach, and train more people for "the jobs of the future."

Obama outlined his four-part program in a July 14 speech at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich.

Under the initiative, schools could qualify for "challenge grants" so they’d have money to give new programs a try, or expand training and counseling.

Dropout rates would be addressed by designing programs to help students who want to earn an associate’s degree or transfer to a four-year institution.

Money would be spent to renovate outdated facilities or build new ones as well as to develop online courses and make them freely available to students and others who want to use them.

The total federal cost is $12 billion over a decade, administration officials said. Of that, $9 billion would go toward challenge grants and addressing dropout rates. Half a billion would go toward online education. The remaining $2.5 billion would be used to spark $10 billion in renovation and construction nationwide, said James Kvaal, an Obama economic policy adviser.

Some of the money could be available by the 2010 budget year scheduled to begin Oct. 1.

Obama spoke of expanded education and job training as a way to help workers compete for jobs such as those expected in the clean-energy industry, when the economy turns around and begins to create jobs again instead of shedding them.

"In an economy where jobs requiring at least an associate’s degree are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college experience, it’s never been more essential to continue education and training after high school," Obama said Sunday in a Washington Post op-ed piece.

"It’s time to reform our community colleges so that they provide Americans of all ages a chance to learn the skills and knowledge necessary to compete for the jobs of the future," he said.

Community colleges have been feeling pinched lately. Enrollments there have been increasing for several reasons, including rising tuition costs at public and private four-year institutions, and because people who’ve lost jobs enroll to learn new skills.

About 6 million students attend community college. Obama wants to increase community college enrollment to 11 million by 2020, Kvaal said.

In his speech to a joint session of Congress earlier this year, the president urged every American to commit to at least one year of higher education or career training.


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