Turning to Community Colleges for Middle-Class Careers

President Obama’s New Budget Points the Way

President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 sets a responsible course for rebuilding the economy so that it works for everyone, not just the privileged few. Our middle class is the engine of economic growth, but is threatened by dwindling public investments, a tax system increasingly rigged to benefit the wealthy, a fraying safety net, and assaults on what should be the bedrock guarantees of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

The president’s budget protects those guarantees, boosts critical investments, and takes steps toward rebalancing the tax code so that all pay their fair share. And it does this in a fiscally responsible way, charting a path that nurtures the economic recovery while reducing the federal deficit, all without asking the middle class to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden.

President Barack Obama today announced a new initiative to boost our nation’s community colleges and help workers attain the skills they need to earn middle-class jobs. President Obama’s Community College to Career Fund would invest $8 billion over the next three years to boost partnerships between community colleges and regional employers. This initiative, jointly administered by the Departments of Education and Labor, aims to train 2 million workers for careers in high-growth industries such as health care and advanced manufacturing.

As the Center for American Progress detailed in a recent policy brief, community college and industry partnerships are a promising strategy to help workers learn the skills to fill open positions in high-growth industries and develop long term middle-class careers. The president’s initiative meets those objectives by drastically scaling up these partnerships over the next few years—boosting our investment in community college and industry partnerships to more than $2.5 billion per year.

The Community College to Career Fund would fill a tremendous hole in our workforce system. Right now our nation is on pace to have a shortfall of nearly 5 million middle-skill workers in the next five years. Middle-skill positions tend to require the type of skills—often demonstrated by an associate’s degree or one-year technical certificate—that are best developed at the community-college level.

By training 2 million skilled workers, the Community College to Career Fund would fill nearly half of the projected gap in middle-skill positions. According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, middle-skill positions can lead to careers that pay higher wages than careers requiring a bachelor’s degree. Approximately one-third of workers with an associate’s degree earn higher wages than peers with a bachelor’s degree, and approximately one-fourth of workers with a one-year certificate earn more than peers with a bachelor’s degree. (see chart)


This initiative is an investment in our workforce and our middle class. Since employers continue to search for workers with specific skills tailored to their businesses, this program can serve as an engine of job growth across the country. Specifically, the Community College to Career Fund would meet the needs of these three important constituencies:

  • Students and workers would obtain postsecondary credentials that prepare them for skilled careers that pay middle-class wages.
  • Local businesses would gain employees with specific skills to match their needs.
  • Regional economies would gain a competitive advantage over their global competitors.

Since assuming office President Obama has been a strong supporter of community colleges—the most flexible, accessible, and least costly part of our higher education system. The president knows that a highly educated and skilled workforce is the key to a growing economy that works for everyone.

Through the Community College and Career Fund, President Obama continues to prove his commitment to strengthening our community-college system and providing opportunities to all hardworking Americans who aspire to join the middle class.

Stephen Steigleder is a Policy Analyst on the Higher Education Policy team at the Center for American Progress.

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