Blog: The Educated Reporter

Can Community Colleges Help the Unemployed Get Jobs?

President Obama’s budget request for 2013 includes  $8 billion in funding to improve career training and job placement programs through the community college system. During a phone call with reporters, senior administration officials explained they hope the money will lead to two million new hires in high-paying specialty positions.

The U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Education would oversee the program, known as the Community College to Career Fund. The proposed funds would be channeled through various streams, with some going directly to community colleges and some going to state programs and small business owners. It would require congressional approval.

Program goals include investing in on-the-job apprenticeships, supporting paid internships for low-income students, overhauling community college curricula to better prepare students for work-related skills, and providing incentives for employers to connect with education institutions.

During a conference call with reporters, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said “community colleges are community assets; they understand the needs of local employers.” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan touted the program’s potential to bring high-paying jobs back to the United States, explaining companies are attracted to regions where pools of qualified workers live.

Officials also told reporters the Career Fund is meant to address the skills shortage in America, saying that despite high unemployment, hiring managers have millions of unfilled jobs in areas like health care, transportation and advanced manufacturing.

High-performing community colleges and workforce placement centers that are able to place students and job seekers quickly will be eligible for additional funds through a rewards component. Duncan said that aspect of the $8 billion fund could take up between $500 million and $1 billion.

The Obama administration sought to include a $10 billion community college package in its health care overhaul legislation in 2010, called the American Graduation Initiative (AGI), but the plan was scrapped in favor of a smaller $2 billion fund for job placement.

Previous high-skills jobs programs have underperformed. A recent audit by the Inspector General of the Dept. of Labor recommended the administration’s green jobs program be cut, because only 8,035 out of an expected 79,854 jobs were created.

An entrepreneurship component of the Career Fund would offer a package of small business tutorials and credentials that could train up to 600,000 entrepreneurs.