- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

WARREN, Mich. | President Obama on Wednesday renewed his push for two years of free community college for all Americans, saying the issue should be one that can bring Republicans and Democrats together at a time when the two sides are locked in a bitter budget showdown.

In a speech at Macomb Community College, the president again cast higher education as the key to economic growth and said young people must be given access to universities, trade schools or community colleges in order to succeed in the 21st century. Mr. Obama first proposed two years of free community college in his State of the Union address earlier this year, but the idea has encountered resistance on Capitol Hill.

In addition to promoting the broader proposal of free community college, the president on Wednesday also announced $175 million in new federal apprenticeship grants that the White House says will benefit more than 34,000 people across the country. The grants will go to 46 organizations across a variety of fields, including health care, manufacturing and a host of others.

“For every young person willing to work hard, I want two years of college to be as free and universal as high school is today. Back in the day, there were kids who got high school educations if they had a lot of money. But the point was we realized, no, we want to make everybody educated. That will be good for all of us. And that’s what we did. Well, I want to do the same thing now for community college educations,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s easy for politicians to say that all of you are the future. Every speech, right, is all you guys are the future. But it’s not good enough just to say it. You got to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. So this is a concrete way to reduce the costs of higher education for young people to improve the skills of workers so they get higher-paying jobs, to grow our economy. It shouldn’t be controversial.”

The president’s comments come as the White House and congressional Republicans are locked in a collision course that once again has made a federal government shutdown a real possibility. The two sides have until the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 to reach an agreement or the government will shut down for the second time in two years.

The White House has said Mr. Obama will not sign any budget bill that does not undo sequestration-level spending, and the president wants additional money approved by Congress to go toward education funding, investments in research and technology, infrastructure and other areas.

But Republicans so far have not appeared willing to budge and remain opposed to the president’s continued calls for higher spending levels.

As for the president’s specific proposal Wednesday, critics say the goal of expanding higher education is a noble one, but that simply increasing federal spending — and saddling taxpayers with the bill for free community college — will harm the country and ultimately restrict opportunities for young Americans.

“Our policy leaders should be looking for ways to get the government out of the higher education system. Let’s stop pumping in more federal dollars—driving up costs and holding down innovation in learning. Expanding choice will drive competition and make college more affordable,” said Patrice Lee, national spokeswoman for Generation Opportunity, an organization that advocates for young Americans and promotes less government involvement in education and related issues.

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