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President Obama’s Community College Proposal: Big Step for Students and Highlights Faculty Needs

President Obama’s Community College Proposal: Big Step for Students and Highlights Faculty Needs On January 20, during his State of the Union speech to Congress and all Americans, President Obama boldly declared America’s community colleges are a gateway for the middle class.

Students who want to get ahead are drowning in debt before they can even gain a footing in our economy, so President Obama’s community college proposal to Congress comes at a pivotal time. America’s College Promise proposal would make two years of community college “free for responsible students, letting students earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree and earn skills needed in the workforce at no cost.”

SEIU members believe we need more funding for community colleges as the best source for high value education – in contrast to for-profit colleges that waste billions of public dollars while leaving students with huge bills and little or no education. Following the State of the Union address SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry said in a statement that, “Families should have a fair shot to build a successful future through free community college, student debt relief, and investments in pre-K, primary and secondary education.”

Access to affordable education will build more opportunities for success for our students and create an academic environment where our teachers can focus on student needs with increased stability.

There are over 300,000 teaching faculty at community colleges; 61 percent are part time and 80 percent are not on the tenure track. Dave Pollak teaches at the Lakes Region Community College in Laconia, New Hampshire. He said, “The President’s proposal recognizes that the affordability of the nation’s community colleges is critical to access a high value education and workforce development on which our economy depends. I support the President’s plan which, I believe, will also draw some attention to faculty workplace issues such as low pay, growing job insecurity and a lack of resources to help students reach their full potential. Our work environment is a student’s learning environment. Faculty are committed to continually making improvements that will lead to more student success.”

Community colleges are by far the most affordable and accessible higher education institutions, even as in-state tuition costs have gone up 59 percent in the last 10 years. They allow students to combine high-quality education programs with the ability to remain in their communities. SEIU members believe the President’s commitment to invest in community colleges would be a big step toward improving student opportunities and increasing stability for a largely contingent faculty workforce.