2015 Back-to-School Tour – The President, the First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, and Secretary Arne Duncan are traveling across the country this week to highlight the need for affordable, quality career and education choices for students, and discussing how we can provide all Americans with the skills and knowledge they need to get ahead.
Today, at Macomb Community College in Warren, Michigan, the President announced new steps to expand apprenticeships and to continue to build momentum nationwide to make community college free for responsible students.
DR. BIDEN: Hi, everyone!
DR. BIDEN: Thank you for that warm welcome. I’m Jill Biden, and I’m proud to stand here today as a community college professor. (Applause.) It’s great to be in Michigan at such an innovative and collaborative school — and one that is truly this community’s college. And it’s great to be with so many business leaders, philanthropists, and education advocates who understand the power of community colleges to change lives.
Education is my life’s work. I was back in the classroom just two weeks ago. In fact, I was grading essays on the way here. (Laughter.) I’m sure all of the teachers — who are your teachers? Can you raise your hands? (Applause.) Nice to see you! So, all you teachers know exactly what I mean. So I want to give a special thank-you to all the teachers who are here today. Thank you for what you do. (Applause.)
Every day in our classroom, we try our best to inspire our students — but, really, it is ultimately they who inspire us. That’s why President Obama and I are here today — because of the students. We’re here because we believe in you. We believe in what you’re doing, and we believe in what you can do.
As a community college professor for over 20 years, I’ve seen the determination, resilience and dedication of countless students.
Parents who are juggling jobs and child care while preparing for new careers; veterans who return to the classroom as they transition to civilian lives; and immigrants who overcome significant odds in hopes of achieving the American Dream. Regardless of circumstances, they show up. They work hard. They believe anything is possible. I’m so proud to be part of an administration that believes in them — believes in you.
From day one, we have made education a priority — from investing in early childhood education to ensuring that more students graduate high school, to making college more affordable. But we’re not stopping there. We’re helping community colleges, like Macomb to team up (mispronounces Macomb) — Macomb — sorry, Macomb. Gosh! (Laughter.) You’re correcting the teacher! (Laughter.) Like Macomb — (applause) — to team up with local employers and offer apprenticeship programs for new and returning students to learn the skills they need to move directly into good-paying jobs that already exist in their communities.
My husband, Joe, the Vice President — (applause) — has traveled all across the country, talking about the importance of skills training in the 21st century. Last week, he was in Florida visiting a community college, and yesterday he spoke at the first-ever White House Apprenticeship Summit. Joe knows that skills-training programs like apprenticeships are vital to keeping our edge in the global economy, and they create pathways for people to grow in careers that they love.
As Second Lady, I love visiting community colleges to see firsthand how they’re helping students become who they aspire to be — nurses, IT specialists, and, of course, my favorite — teachers. (Applause.) And I’m always impressed how community colleges use new technology to increase student success. When I visited Austin Community College in Texas, I saw one of the nation’s largest learning labs — it’s about the size of a football field, with more than 600 computers — and I had the opportunity to meet with students who were taking an innovative developmental math course that customizes lessons for them to learn at their own pace.
Students in that program are twice as likely to complete developmental math compared to a student enrolled in traditional ones — mostly because it takes away their math anxiety. I’m sure some of you might have a little of that. (Laughter.) One student told me she never considered herself a “math person” until taking this course. Now, she wants to become a math teacher to help other students overcome their own struggles and find success.
This is what community colleges are all about. They have the flexibility to adapt and meet students’ needs. If we want all Americans to succeed in the 21st century, we need to make sure that all students of all ages have the best education possible. (Applause.)
Our administration believes you should have the education and skills you need to succeed without being saddled with decades of debt. (Applause.) Because it’s too hard to get ahead when you start off from so far behind. That’s why earlier this year, President Obama proposed America’s College Promise — a common-sense idea to make two years of community college free for anyone who is willing to work for it — to provide millions of responsible students with access to higher education and the opportunity of a more prosperous life. (Applause.)
All across our country, states and communities have been getting to work and implementing their own plans. Nine million students a year could benefit. It is the way to a better, smarter America.
To further support efforts to make two years of community college free, today President Obama is launching the College Promise Advisory Board — which I’m proud to say that I will chair, and former
Republican Wyoming Governor Jim Geringer will serve as the Vice Chair of the board. Our task is to bring together leaders from across the country to highlight student success stories — like we’ve
seen in Tennessee, Chicago, and Michigan — to share best practices, and to encourage others to join our efforts.
So it’s important that you give your friends, your families, your classmates a heads-up — to join the movement to make two years of community college free. Because education is the key to America’s
future. (Applause.) Joe and I, the First Lady and the President would not be where we are today without an education. It’s what drives us every day to make sure that every student has the same opportunity.
I’m truly honored to be here today with an incredible leader who recognizes the value of community colleges, and is investing in them so that they are the best that they can be.
Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States — Barack Obama. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Michigan! (Applause.) It’s good to be back at Macomb. (Applause.) Go, Monarchs!
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you!
THE PRESIDENT: I love you back. I do. (Applause.)
I want to begin by thanking your president, Jim Jacobs, for hosting us. (Applause.) We have got also two outstanding members of Congress here who support every single initiative that we’ve got here in the state of Michigan. We got Sandy Levin and Brenda Lawrence. (Applause.) We’ve got your mayor, James Fouts here. (Applause.) Somebody was really excited about you, James. (Laughter.) And of course, we’ve got my favorite community college professor, Dr. Jill Biden here. (Applause.) Jill was not fibbing; on Air Force One, she was grading papers. (Laughter.) She was. And I have flashbacks to when I was teaching law and grading papers. It’s not as bad as writing papers — (laughter) — but reading them is tough too, sometimes.
Jill works with Michelle to support our military families. She’s leading the new College Promise Advisory Board. On top of that, she teaches full-time at a community college in Virginia. And her husband is not so bad either. (Laughter.) He’s okay. Love Joe Biden. (Applause.)
So, across our country, young people — and some just young-at-heart people — (laughter) — you’re young, you’re young — are going back to school. Just yesterday, Malia started her first day of senior year. You know, I was sitting in her room because I was going to see her off her first day of school. She puts her head on my shoulder and she says, “Daddy, you know, you realize this is probably going to be the last time that you ever send me off for my first day of school.”
AUDIENCE: Aww —
THE PRESIDENT: And I started — I had to look away. I didn’t want to just be such a crybaby. (Laughter.) It makes no sense. Michelle and I are way too young to have daughters who are both almost in college now. So as a parent, I was a little freaked out.
But as President, this time of year does inspire me, because students like the ones here are not just making the best investment in your future, but you’re also making the best possible investment in the country’s future. If you put in the hard work to earn your education, then it’s up to all of us to make sure that hard work pays off. And that’s something that I’m going to be focusing on over the next couple of weeks.
You see, education has always been the secret sauce, the secret to America’s success. More than 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln helped establish land grant colleges all across America. About 100 years ago, we started moving from an agrarian economy, a farm economy, to an industrial economy. And we became the first country in the world to say that every child deserves a shot at a high school education, even if they weren’t born rich. And it’s because we were ahead of the curve that we ended up having the most educated workforce. And that was good for the entire economy and good for businesses.
After World War II, we gave returning heroes like my grandfather the chance to go to college on the GI Bill. And in those postwar years, the investments that we made in our future made us the best-educated nation on Earth. That’s one of the reasons we built the world’s largest economy. That’s the reason we built the biggest, strongest middle class. And in places like Macomb County, you could feel secure, knowing that if you worked hard you’d have a chance to find a good job, buy a home, raise a family, send your kids to college. We didn’t promise everybody that they’d get rich, but we promised that everybody who worked hard would have a chance to get ahead and have the dignity of a decent-paying job with decent-paying benefits. That’s what it meant to be middle class.
Now, in more recent decades, the economy has begun to change again. And other countries have caught up. Good jobs, in some cases, went overseas. And rather than redouble our efforts to make ourselves once again at the cutting edge and educate more and more of our young people, we decided to cut taxes for the very top. We stopped investing as much as we needed to in higher education. Tuition started going up because state legislators were providing less support. Folks who were already doing extraordinarily well, they did even better, but prosperity didn’t trickle down to a middle class which was working harder than ever. And then, finally, in 2008, a crisis spread all the way from Wall Street out to Main Street that cost millions of Americans their jobs, their homes, their savings — everything that they had worked so hard to build all their lives.
So we, together, have spent the last seven years fighting back, getting focused on middle-class economics once again. Today, our businesses have created more than 13 million new jobs over the last five and a half years. This is the longest streak of job creation on record — (applause) — 66 straight months of job creation. So the unemployment rate is now at 5.1 percent, which is the lowest it’s been since April of 2008. (Applause.) Another 16 million Americans have the security of health insurance. Our high school dropout rate is at an all-time low. More Americans are graduating college than ever before. (Applause.)
And something that’s relevant to this area, because we refused to walk away from the American auto industry, our autoworkers — (applause) — our autoworkers, our automakers are on track to sell more cars and trucks this year than we have done in more than a decade. (Applause.) Workers right here in Michigan who thought they might never build a car again, they can’t build them fast enough now. Chrysler has added more than 1,000 jobs at the truck plant right down the road. (Applause.) In May, GM announced plans to invest $1 billion at its Warren Tech Center, adding 2,600 new jobs. (Applause.)
So we placed our bets on American businesses and American workers, and that bet is paying off. Michigan is coming back. America is coming back. (Applause.) Detroit is coming back, too. (Applause.) I mean, I don’t know how the Lions are going to be this year, but I’m talking about the economy —
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Superbowl!
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Bears!
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. The Bears, too, yeah. (Laughter.) Oh, uh-oh. Watch it now. I’ve got Secret Service. (Laughter.)
But, look, it’s not enough to get back to where we were. It’s good that we’ve recovered, but for the sake of future generations, we’ve got to do better than that. The biggest problem we have right now in today’s economy is that although we’re creating jobs, the unemployment rate is down, inequality is still creeping up. A lot of times the jobs aren’t paying enough. Wages are still flat.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I know.
THE PRESIDENT: I know. (Laughter.) Now, some of that has to do with the fact that companies that are making record profits just aren’t sharing enough of those profits with their workers. (Applause.) And that’s a problem. And in some cases, our tax policies continue to incentivize jobs moving overseas.
But a big part of making sure that today’s economy works better for ordinary folks goes back to what I started with — this issue of education. Every American willing to work hard should have a shot at a higher education. Because as the economy globally becomes more competitive, everybody has got to upgrade their skills just a little bit. It’s not enough just to have the same skills for 30 years, because what worked 30 years ago isn’t going to work now, and what works now is not going to work five years from now or 10 years from now, because everything is moving too fast. And if you don’t have the skills to get the new jobs that pay better, if you don’t have the knowledge to adapt and be creative with new machinery, new systems, new techniques, you’re going to fall behind. And then the wages for unskilled work will go down, and you’ll be trapped.
Compared to those with a high school diploma, college graduates earn about $1 million more over the course of their lifetimes. That’s a lot of money, a million dollars. Even today. If you have a degree from a two-year college, you earn $10,000 a year more than somebody who only finished high school. So one study found that over their lifetimes, workers who complete an on-the-job apprenticeship earn around $300,000 more than their peers who didn’t go through an apprenticeship program. So whether it’s through a community college, an apprenticeship program, upgrading your skills pays off. The unemployment rate for those folks are lower, and they’re going to earn more money over their lifetimes.
By the end of the decade, two in three job openings will require some form of post-secondary education, some form of higher education. Now, you don’t have to necessarily to go to a four-year college to get a good job, but you have to have some sort of specialized skill in order for you to advance. It’s not enough just to be strong and willing to work. It used to be you walked into an auto plant, and you said, look, I’m going to get to work on time. I don’t mind getting dirty. I’m willing to work hard. And that was enough. It helped, by the way, that there were strong unions. (Applause.) And that’s a whole — I talked about that during Labor Day, by the way.
Part of what gives workers more leverage to get higher pay when the company is making a lot of money is, is that they’ve got a union behind them. (Applause.)
But whether it is a bachelor’s degree, an associate’s degree, a journeyman’s card from an apprenticeship program, having a credential above and beyond your high school diploma, that’s the surest ticket to the middle class. And in global competition for jobs and industries, having the best-educated workforce in the world is the surest way for America to stay on top.
So that’s why I believe no kid should be priced out of a college education. (Applause.) No hardworking young person should be denied a shot at success just because of where they started out in life. You don’t know — that’s the thing about America, where you start off doesn’t determine where you’re going to end up. (Applause.) I was the child of a single mom. And we weren’t rich, and I turned out okay. (Applause.) But the reason — the reason is I got an education. Same thing with Michelle, same thing with Jill Biden, same thing with a lot of you.
And that’s why, since I took office, we’ve increased Pell grants for low-income students by 70 percent. (Applause.) We’ve helped over 2 million more young people afford college. We created a new college opportunity tax credit for working families, averaging about $1,800 a year. With our new GI Bill for our veterans, our heroes coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve helped more than 700,000 veterans and their family members earn a college education. (Applause.)
We took on a student-loan system that was letting big banks be the middlemen on student loans. And so they were taking $10 billion — tens of billions of dollars in unnecessary subsidies; we said we’ll cut out the middlemen, give the money directly to our students, the folks who need it.
And back in 2009, when I had no gray hair — (laughter) — I had a little bit, but you couldn’t see it. (Laughter.) And now you can see it. I still look good, though?
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. I was fishing for that compliment. (Laughter.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Better now.
THE PRESIDENT: Better? Okay. (Laughter.) Where was I? (Laughter.) I got all flushed. I was blushing a little bit.
Back in 2009, I came here and I announced my plan to invest in community colleges like this one. And sometimes it can feel like four-year colleges get all the attention, but that has to change. And I’ve tried to make sure that it changes. I have been focused on community colleges. They’re at the heart of the American Dream. Community colleges are everywhere. They’re accessible. They’re a gateway for folks who — maybe their parents didn’t go to college, maybe they can’t afford a four-year college, maybe the career path they want to follow isn’t the traditional one.
This becomes the kind of place where you can earn the skills you need to start a great career right away. It’s the kind of place where you don’t have to choose between pursuing an education and supporting a family — you can do both because it’s flexible. It gives folks who have to start working right away the chance to also get a skill or a degree.
It’s the kind of place where young people can save money before they start a four-year school. They can transfer their credits — a place where older workers can retool and retrain, take their careers to the next level.
Over the last seven years, America has been graduating more students from community colleges than ever before. But I’m not satisfied. We can go further. So in my State of the Union address, I announced my plan to bring down the cost of community college to zero. Zero. (Applause.)
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. Back in the day, there were kids who got high school educations if they had a lot of money. But the point was we realized, no, we want to make everybody educated. That will be good for all of us. And that’s what we did. Well, I want to do the same thing now for community college educations.
It’s easy for politicians to say that all of you are the future. Every speech, right, is all you guys are the future. But it’s not good enough just to say it. You got to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. (Applause.)
So this is a concrete way — a concrete way to reduce the costs of higher education for young people to improve the skills of workers so they get higher-paying jobs, to grow our economy. It shouldn’t be controversial.
And I want to work with folks back in Washington, both Democrats and Republicans, to pass a responsible budget that invests in you. If students and workers and businesses live up to their responsibilities, we should be able to make it easier for you to succeed.
And by the way, in my original budget what I said was it does cost some money to make two years of community college free. I said, well, the federal government will help states and counties and local communities, and we’ll pay for it by closing up some of these corporate tax loopholes that don’t help grow the economy and aren’t fair anyway. (Applause.)
Now, unfortunately, so far at least, I’ve gotten a little resistance from members of Congress. That will shock you. (Laughter.) But at a time when we should be growing our investments in job-training and apprenticeships, we’ve got Republicans in Congress who are going in the opposite direction. Some are even talking about shutting down the government at the end of the month. That’s what would happen if Congress fails to pass a budget. It would be wildly irresponsible. I mean, right now our economy is actually a bright spot in a pretty volatile world economy. After all the hard work the American people have done to get us back on our feet, to recover from that Great Recession, now is not the time to play games. You’d pull the rug right from under the economy. But there’s a lot of talk about that in Washington for unrelated reasons that, by the way, don’t even have to do with the budget. They have to do with politics and presidential elections and posturing and all that good stuff.
Here’s the good news. Investing in community colleges should be a cause that can get bipartisan support because both parties have supported it in the past. Outside of Washington, away from Congress, people are stepping up.
So this fall, Tennessee is enrolling 15,000 students in its community college program. Not one of them had to take out a loan to pay for tuition. (Applause.) Just in the last six months, six more states and communities have created new programs to provide free community college, including one in Milwaukee just announced today. More than 10 others have introduced new legislation to get this done. So there’s a movement going on here. It’s an idea whose time has come: Free community college for responsible students. It’s an idea that makes sense.
Now, to help more states adopt that idea, as Jill mentioned, we’re announcing a new, independent College Promise Advisory Board. It’s going to be led by two outstanding leaders — Dr. Jill Biden and former Republican Governor Jim Geringer. And they’re going to work with businesses and charities and colleges and labor groups and nonprofits to make sure every young person who works hard has a shot at a great education.
And if you want more information — because we’re going to need grassroots support for this idea — we want you to go to the website, HeadsUpAmerica.us — HeadsUpAmerica.us. And we call it Heads Up America because we’re giving folks a heads-up. If you want a great shot at a good-paying job, then community college might be the right path for you. And if you work hard, then community college should be free.
Of course, we don’t just want every student to be able to attend community college, we want them to attend a great community college. And that’s the other reason I came back to Macomb. (Applause.)
This is one of the best, most innovative community colleges in the country. (Applause.) Under your president’s leadership, you work directly with local employers and labor unions to make sure students are getting the skills that they need to get a job right now. You help students find support for their housing and childcare so that it’s easier to stay in school. Your early-college programs gives high school students the chance to take college courses and earn credits towards a degree. (Applause.)
Whenever you can, you help students get out of the classroom and get hands-on training for jobs that need to be filled right now. You’re learning tech skills, advanced manufacturing skills. And instead of taking on more debt for this training, a lot of you are already drawing a paycheck. That’s the kind of education you want.
So we want to give workers across America the same chance that you have to get real-world experience that leads directly to a good job. The average starting wage for a worker who’s finished an apprenticeship is now more than $50,000 a year. And, by the way, our competitors understand how important these programs are to their economies. On a per-capita basis, England has 15 times as many apprentices as we do. Germany has 16 times as many. So that’s giving them a leg up when it comes to filling jobs of the future.
Now, if England and Germany can do it — (laughter) — I mean, listen, I love the English and the Germans. I’m just saying, this isn’t that hard. It’s not rocket science. It requires some political will. So today we’re taking action to change that.
My administration has already made the largest investment in apprenticeships in nearly a decade. We’re going to build on that momentum with $175 million in grants to 46 apprenticeship programs all across the country. (Applause.) And here at home, together with Grand Rapids Community College, Macomb is going to work with partners across the region to give you more opportunities to “earn as you learn.” Just down the road, Focus: HOPE — (applause) — is going to help folks living in Detroit earn new jobs, or get better-paying jobs.
Across America, companies like Northrup Grumman and Rolls Royce will help prepare workers for jobs in advanced manufacturing. You’ve got companies like Cisco that are helping them to prepare for jobs in IT. Companies like Pfizer will help prepare them for jobs in health care. Unions like the UAW and the AFL-CIO are going to help workers earn new jobs or better-paying ones.
So this is something everybody can get behind. When our businesses are creating good jobs, and our community colleges and training programs are helping workers get the skills they need to fill those jobs, you can’t stop us. There’s nothing we can’t accomplish.
You know, just over 30 years ago, as part of his reelection campaign, President Ronald Reagan came right here to Macomb Community College. Here’s what he told the young people in the field house that day. “Our duty,” he said, “is to make sure that you have the same America of opportunity and hope and dreams and future that we had when we were your age.” Now, Ronald Reagan and I belonged to two different parties. We had a different vision about how our economy could grow. But I agree with those words. In America, it should not matter who you are or where you come from, what your last name is, who you love. Everybody deserves a chance to make it. Everybody deserves “opportunity and hope and dreams and future.” (Applause.)
And today, with a record streak of job growth, an auto industry that’s back on its feet, and wages that are starting to finally rise a little bit, I’ve never been more optimistic about America. We are not there yet. We’ve got more work to do. But if we just keep on building on the progress that we’ve already made, if we keep restoring the link between hard work and success, then we won’t just recover from that recession that we had, we’re not just going to retrain a workforce, we’re going to renew our nation’s promise. We’re going to rebuild our middle class. We’ll remind the world why it is that America is the greatest country on Earth.
Thank you, Michigan. God bless you. God bless America. (Applause.)