President Obama pushes community college plan during visit to IndianaBy Rachel Bunn 812-331-4357 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Wilson wasn’t sure he would get an internship with Aerofab, a sheet metal company in Indianapolis.
The Ivy Tech Community College student was competing with students from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis for the gig, and he wondered about his chances.
But it was Wilson’s knowledge, mostly from his hands-on training classes, that secured him a spot at the company his final semester at Ivy Tech, which will continue through the summer — just before the chemical engineering and technology major starts at IUPUI.
Wilson was the Ivy Tech student who greeted President Barack Obama on his arrival Friday at the Indianapolis campus, his story just one of the many examples of why Obama came to Indiana to hype his plan for two free years of community college, among other initiatives.
In the town hall-style meeting, Obama toggled between lighthearted moments – his first international trip where he accompanied former Republican Sen. Richard Lugar to Russia and his love of basketball, despite his game being “gone” – and pushing his agenda.
“I’m not pushing these ideas for my sake; I’m pushing them because I think this is where America needs to go,” Obama told the audience of about 400 people.
The president’s proposals – from community colleges to childcare to highways – focus on improved infrastructure that he said will grow the U.S. economy and middle class by creating jobs and keeping them in the country.
The biggest piece is “America’s Promise,” a proposal to make two years of community college free to students who maintain a 2.5 GPA while in college and complete their degree on time.
To pay for it, the president wanted to scale back tax benefits for college savings account, also known as 529 savings accounts, a plan he said he was officially dropping.
“The savings weren’t that great,” said Obama, who has two savings accounts himself for daughters Malia and Sasha. “So we actually, based on response, changed our mind and are going to be paying for the two years of free community college with other sources.”
The other sources he’s proposed are closing tax code loopholes, including one for trust funds, which benefit the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.
It won’t be enough to fund the community college program, though, with about a fourth of the estimated $60 billion over the next 10 years expected to come from states. It’s a plan that’s been highly criticized by Republican leaders.
The president has a response to those leaders, however.
“If Republicans disagree with the way I’m trying to solve these problems, they should put forward their own plans,” Obama said.
Right now, the president’s plan focuses on what he called “creative” solutions that include online learning, credit for skills veterans learn while serving their country and even partnerships between community colleges and high schools.
“We have this rigid system, this image in our heads,” Obama said. To most people, education follows a singular path: high school, then a four-year college, then a job. But that’s not the way education or life works for many students. “We have to be much more creative about these issues.”
Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, who attended the event, said he sees the president’s proposal as a jumping off point for more bipartisan discussion.
“What we’re looking to do is work together with our colleagues for the same goal – when you end college, not to come out with debt,” Donnelly said.
The price tag may be the biggest sticking point for Republican leaders. Rep. Todd Young, R-Indiana, said in a statement that 93 to 95 percent of Ivy Tech students are already eligible for financial aid that would cover all college costs, making the president’s plan more burdensome than beneficial.
“Every Hoosier deserves access to an affordable, quality education that will prepare them for entry or re-entry to our workforce, and realization of their full human potential,” Young said. “We should expect a statewide community college system like Ivy Tech to play a large role in realizing that vision. But such plans are best left to the individual states and their college and university systems.”
In Indiana, a bill — authored by state Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington — would provide full tuition scholarships for up to 2.5 years toward an associate’s degree. The bill has been referred to the education committee.
Obama encouraged Hoosiers to reach out to government leaders and encourage more discussion and bipartisan compromise.
“Let’s have a debate worthy of this country,” he said.
Ivy Tech Community College is one of the largest community college systems in the U.S. with a statewide enrollment of nearly 180,000 students.