Obama in Michigan pushes college affordability, high-skilled jobs training

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WARREN, Mich. — In what could be one of his last stops to the state before he leaves office, President Obama spoke Wednesday afternoon in Metro Detroit to promote his plan to make college more affordable.

In a speech at Macomb Community College in Warren, the president announced plans to create a national advisory board to advance a proposal he rolled out earlier in the year aimed at making community college free for a majority of students.

The advisory board will be headed by second lady Jill Biden, who will also be in attendance. Biden, a community college professor herself, encouraged the students, faculty and others in the room to "join the movement" to make two years of community college free saying "education is the key to America's future."

"For every young person willing to work hard, I want two years of college to be as free and universal as high school is today," Obama said.

This is a concrete way to reduce cost of higher education for young people, improve skills of workers for higher paying jobs to grow our economy; it shouldn’t be controversial."

The plan, first introduced in January would provide two years of tuition-free community college, but has largely stalled in the Republican-controlled Congress due to concerns over its estimated to cost of more than $60 billion over 10 years. The federal government would foot the roughly three-fourths of the cost, while states that choose to participate would cover the remaining cost. Up to nine million students nationwide could benefit.

Lacking support in Washington, Obama said it was time to turn to grassroots efforts to build support and momentum for the idea.

"Investing in community college should be a cause that should get bipartisan support because both parties have supported it in the past," Obama said. "Outside of Washington and away from Congress people are stepping up."

The president said it's already happening elsewhere, citing Tennessee as a recent example where 15,000 students were enrolled in community college without one having to take out a student loan, he said.

Speaking to a standing room only crowd of roughly 1,000, the president said having a credential beyond a high school diploma is the "surest way for American to stay on top."

"It's why I believe no kid should be priced out of a college education," Obama told the crowd.

President Obama's speech also included the announcement of a $175 million Labor Department program which could create 34,000 apprenticeships around the country.

Grand Rapids Community College is one of 46 partners across the country that will benefit from the federal grant.

GRCC, in a partnership with Macomb Community College, will create the Michigan Apprenticeship Program Plus. The partnership will receive $3.9 million of the U.S. Department of Labor grant to meet employer demand for high-skilled talent.

Wednesday marks the 17th trip to Michigan for the president since taking office. His first visit to Michigan in July 2009 just months after his took office was also at Macomb Community College, where he announced the American Graduation Initiative, a proposal to invest nearly $12 billion in community colleges by the year 2020. That amount has since been greatly reduced to roughly $2 billion for community colleges.

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