Area community colleges say President Barack Obama is taking a step in the right direction in trying to get the American people educated and trained for the jobs of the future.
Obama said Tuesday in his State of the Union address that he hopes to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and revitalize community colleges as a "career pathway to the children of so many working families."
The bill, if adopted, would end taxpayer subsidies for student loans; provide families with a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college; and increase Pell Grants. Obama also hopes to be able to tell graduates that "they will be required to pay only 10 percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after 20 years and forgiven after 10 years if they choose a career in public service."
Sean Dallas, public relations director for Lehigh Carbon Community College, said, "With making the college education more affordable through tax credits, more grants and loan forgiveness programs, it will certainly increase the number of students who are able to improve their lives by learning new skills for the jobs of the 21st century.
"LCCC salutes the president for his bold ideas and what he is trying to do to get access for all Americans who want to get a better education," he added.
Jeanne Miller, director of Carbon and Schuylkill County Educational Services at LCCC, added that Obama's speech hit the points that LCCC are already focusing on for workforce training.
"I feel that President Obama's speech really emphasized the important tool that the community college is going to be for the future in providing training for the community, especially in areas where you need short term training so you can go out and get a job," she said, noting the college's workforce department is looking at evaluating the needs of the residents of Carbon County.
"The president is saying community colleges are a tool and he is right. You can get all your needs met to get trained and prepare yourself for a career."
Dr. Mark Erickson, president of Northampton Community College, agrees with Obama's hopes for community colleges acting as the gateway for future workforces.
"We are pleased that the president has such a deep appreciation for the critical role community colleges play in the higher education landscape," he said Wednesday.
"Community colleges provide a pathway to higher education for almost half of all college students, especially those in lower income brackets. They serve as important engines for economic development regionally and nationally by assessing and offering training programs aligned with the skills that employers need.
"Recent local examples include the lineworker training program Northampton started in 2013, and the dealer training programs that have been so successful in South Bethlehem and the Poconos," he added.
"On a personal level, I was excited to hear the president mention apprenticeship programs because one of Northampton's strategic priorities is to ensure NCC students in all majors gain internship or job shadowing experience before they graduate," he said.
Obama also spoke about launching a national competition to improve schools by inspiring students to excel in math and science.
In Carbon and Schuylkill counties, LCCC operates the SHINE Afterschool program, which focuses on improving elementary and middle school students' math and science skills, while introducing them to careers of the future in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Miller, who is also the director of the SHINE Afterschool program, felt Obama's thoughts were what SHINE is already accomplishing.
"With SHINE, I find it interesting because 80 percent of the jobs of the future will be in STEM and that is what SHINE is all about," she said. "We're all about exposing these kids to the skills of the future."
Miller added that not many students enter the college wanting to major in areas for future careers so the SHINE program aims to show students what they can be before they get to the college level in the hopes of nurturing an excitement about these careers.
The SHINE Afterschool program has recently been featured in a number of national publications highlighting the program's goals and improvements on student performance.
"Youth Today," an independent, nationally distributed newspaper that focuses on youth services, highlighted the program earlier this month for its real-world thinking of teaching students important skills to make educated future career choices.
SHINE was also picked as one of 15 programs highlighted by the Afterschool Alliance's STEM Afterschool Storybook, a national program that focuses on afterschool programs.