The White House
April 11, 2015
And I’m here with a simple message: middle-class economics works.
Our economy has gone from crisis to recovery to now to resurgence—with the longest streak of consecutive job growth ever recorded in the history of this country and more than all other advanced countries combined.
But to make sure everyone is part of this resurgence, we need to build on what we know widens the path to the middle class—and you all know what it is, access to education.
Folks, the source of our economic power and middle class strength in the 20th Century was the fact that we were among the first major nations in the world to provide twelve years of free education for our citizens.
But in the 21st Century, other countries have already caught up and twelve years is simply no longer enough—a minimum of fourteen years is necessary for families to have a surer path to the middle class and for the United States to be able to out-compete the rest of the world.
Consider that by the end of the decade, two out of three of all jobs will require an education beyond high school, from an 18-week certificate to a two-year associate’s degree to a four-year bachelor’s, or a PhD.
And consider that folks with an associate’s degree earn 25% more than someone who graduated just from high school. And folks who graduate with a four-year degree make 70% more.
But today, the cost of higher education is too high for too many Americans. Too many folks are priced out of a piece of the middle-class dream.
And that’s why the President and I have a straightforward plan to remove that barrier and expand the pathway to the middle class—by bringing the cost of community colleges down—down to zero.
Zero—for anyone willing to work for it and for the institutions that meet certain basic requirements.
Our plan is no give-away. Students must keep up their grades and stay on track to graduate. States must contribute funding and hold community colleges accountable for the results. And community colleges must maintain high graduation and job placement rates.
And here’s a key point—community colleges will have to offer courses that are directly transferrable to a four-year degree.
If two years of community college are free—and credits can transfer to a four-year university—that means the cost of a four-year degree will be cut in half for a lot of working families struggling to send their children to college, qualified children.
And under our plan, students from low-income families will be able to keep the benefits that flow from other financial aid, like Pell grants, to cover childcare, housing, transportation—costs that often keep them from attending class and completing a degree in the first place.
But here’s another key point. Not every good-paying job will require a two-year or four-year degree. Some of these jobs will require just a training certificate that can be earned in just a few months.
For example, you can go to an 18-week coding bootcamp—with no previous experience in computers—and become a computer programmer making up to $70,000 a year.
There are other jobs in fields like advanced manufacturing and energy that pay $40,000, $50,000, $60,000 a year—jobs you can raise a family on.
It’s a simple fact that community colleges are the most flexible educational institutions we have. I’ve traveled all over this country, from New York to Iowa to California, to see how community colleges create partnerships with Fortune 500 companies and local businesses to generate jobs; support apprenticeships with organized labor, and prepare hardworking students for good-paying jobs in the areas in which they live.
Making community colleges free is good for workers, it’s good for companies, and it’s good for our economy.
Here’s what we propose: Close loopholes for the wealthiest investors and levy a .07% fee on the biggest banks to discourage the kind of risky behavior that crashed our economy just a few years ago.
Doing just that would pay for free community college—and provide a leg up for working families through tax credits to cover necessities like childcare.
That’s what middle-class economics is all about—giving folks a fair chance to get ahead. A fair tax code. No guarantees. Just a fair chance.
It’s simple folks, two years of community college should become as free and as universal as high school is today if we’re to make this economic resurgence permanent and well into the 21st Century.
So I want to thank you all for listening. I hope you have a great weekend and God bless you all and may God protect our troops.