Obama Puts Focus on Job Growth and Training Programs

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Addressing a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, President Obama touted his administration's efforts to make college more accessible and affordable, but offered no new proposals in those areas. And he avoided the sharp criticism of college costs heard in previous State of the Union addresses.
January 29, 2014

In a State of the Union address that centered on job growth and economic opportunity, President Obama called on Congress to increase spending on scientific research, create more manufacturing “hubs” on college campuses, and expand job-training programs at community colleges.

Mr. Obama also touted his administration’s efforts to provide students with more information about college costs and outcomes, and to graduate more low-income students, mentioning the White House’s recent “College Opportunity Summit” with college leaders.

He cited the administration’s efforts to remake career-training high schools, and to limit loan payments for borrowers in income-based repayment.

But the president steered clear of the criticisms of college costs prominent in his State of the Union addresses last year and the year before. And he offered no new proposals for making college more accessible and affordable.

He made no mention of his controversial College Scorecard or college-rating plan, though he did credit his administration with “shaking up our system of higher education to give parents more information and colleges more incentives to offer better value.”

Instead, Mr. Obama focused on his administration’s recent successes, citing the 150 commitments to expand access that colleges, businesses, and nonprofit organizations made at the summit, and the recent creation of two university-based “manufacturing innovation institutes”—in Raleigh, N.C., and Youngstown, Ohio.

The president proposed the public-private innovation centers in 2012, asking Congress to spend $1-billion on 15 such institutes across the country. Lawmakers didn’t act on the plan, so last year he took executive action, creating a $200-million competition for the first three centers.

In Tuesday night’s speech, he announced plans to create six more, and urged Congress to pass legislation that would “double that number.”

Training ‘Tomorrow’s Work Force’

Mr. Obama also announced that he had asked Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to lead an “across-the-board reform of America’s training programs.”

“That means more on-the-job training, and more apprenticeships that set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life,” he continued. “It means connecting companies to community colleges that can help design training to fill their specific needs.”

And he urged lawmakers to “undo the damage to basic research” caused by recent across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration, “so we can unleash the next great American discovery.” Congress made a down payment on that plan in the recently enacted 2014 budget legislation, but spending levels haven’t rebounded to pre-sequester levels.

The president spoke of education as key to training “tomorrow’s work force” and made passing reference to his $100-million effort to encourage educators and executives to come together to let students earn college and industry credentials while still in high school.

As in past State of the Union speeches, the president pressed lawmakers to pass comprehensive immigration reform, saying that “people come here to fulfill their dreams—to study, invent, contribute to our culture. They make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody.”

But he did not specifically mention legislation known as the Dream Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for some college students who are in the country illegally, or efforts to expand visas for foreign graduates of American colleges.

On college costs, the president’s rhetoric was less fiery than in previous State of the Union addresses, which took colleges to task over their rising tuition and promised penalties for colleges that failed to constrain their costs. In 2012 he warned that the administration couldn’t “keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition.” Last year Mr. Obama said that “taxpayers can’t keep subsidizing higher and higher costs for higher education.”