WASHINGTON — As the clock ticks toward the end of his presidency and he faces a Republican Congress that is in no mood to cooperate, President Obama on Wednesday kicked off a public-relations campaign aimed at building support for his plans to make college more affordable.
At an event near Detroit, Mr. Obama announced the creation of a national advisory board to push the idea that community college should be free for many students across the country.
“Education has always been the secret sauce, the secret to America’s success,” Mr. Obama said to a small but enthusiastic crowd of students at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich. “Every American willing to work hard should have a shot at higher education.”
Accompanied by Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and a community college professor, Mr. Obama unveiled public-service announcements — featuring students, community college alumni and celebrities — aimed at raising awareness and building support for his plans. Dr. Biden will be one of the advisory board’s two leaders, along with Jim Geringer, a former Republican governor of Wyoming.
Many Republican lawmakers have reacted coolly to Mr. Obama’s plan to spend $60 billion over the next 10 years to make community college free for qualified students. The president first announced the plan in January. Congress, however, appears unlikely to approve a costly proposal by Mr. Obama in the waning months of his presidency.
At Wednesday’s event, Mr. Obama conceded that his plans have met “a little resistance” in the halls of Congress. “We’ve got Republicans in Congress who are going in the wrong direction,” he said.
He chided Republicans for threatening to shut down the government at the end of the month because of disagreements over spending and other priorities. But he urged lawmakers to work with him on the college proposals, a subject, he said, that has long had bipartisan support.
“Outside of Washington, away from Congress, people are stepping up,” he said, referring to several efforts by states and cities to make community college free. “There’s a movement going on. It’s an idea whose time has come. Free community college for responsible students. It’s an idea that makes sense.”
Cecilia Muñoz, the president’s top domestic policy adviser, said Mr. Obama’s trip to the college — the first stop on a tour to promote college affordability — was intended to increase pressure on lawmakers by building support for the idea across the nation.
“The way that that happens is that the president takes a debate around the country,” she said, adding that the advisory board would “create a space for the energy and the momentum that’s building around this to be even more successful.”
“Ultimately, that’s how you create the momentum to bring the debate back to Washington,” she said.
In addition to the free community college proposal, Mr. Obama will announce a new round of federal grants intended to encourage companies to hire apprentices who can “learn while they earn,” acquiring new skills on the job instead of in a classroom.
To develop such apprenticeships, the administration will distribute $175 million in grants to 46 partners, including community colleges, private businesses and labor organizations. Officials said the 46 programs should result in the hiring of about 34,000 apprentices in a variety of fields.
“ ‘Earn while you learn’ is a model that has been effective across the world,” said Thomas E. Perez, the secretary of labor. “These investments are going to catalyze further growth. We are seeding innovation.”
Officials said the $175 million was not intended to pay the salaries of the apprentices. But, they said, they hoped that the federal seed money would help the apprentice programs become permanent, providing opportunities for years to come.
“There’s no substitute for learning by doing,” said Jeffrey D. Zients, the director of the National Economic Council. “Apprenticeships allow people to prove their mettle while picking up the skills they need.”
In an email sent to supporters on Tuesday, Mr. Obama hailed what he said had been his administration’s progress toward making college more affordable and effective. The president said he would travel to a high school in Des Moines on Monday to discuss college affordability with juniors and seniors. And he said his wife, Michelle, would visit a community college this month.
“The students I hear from every day remind me that if we can come together around the idea that every American — no matter where they grew up or how much money their parents have — deserves a quality education and a shot at success, then we can build a future as remarkable as our past,” he wrote.
[ Source :- Nytimes ]