WARREN, Mich. — Unable to have his way with Congress, President Barack Obama reached back to his roots as a community organizer and sought Wednesday to spark a national movement in support of his idea for free community college.
Congress has shown next-to-no interest in Obama’s $60 billion community college proposal, so he’s taking his case to the people.
“It’s an idea whose time has come,” Obama told an audience at Macomb Community College. “It’s an idea that makes sense.”
Obama said six states and communities have created programs similar to what he proposed during his State of the Union address earlier this year, including one announced by Milwaukee on Wednesday. Lawmakers in more than 10 other states have introduced legislation providing for free community college, he said.
Getting an education is the best investment anyone can make for their and the country’s future, Obama said.
“Education has always been the secret sauce, the secret to America’s success,” he said.
Obama announced that a new, independent “college promise” advisory board will work with various organizations to build momentum for the idea by highlighting programs that already provide free community college and recruiting more states and communities to do likewise. It will be headed by a woman whom Obama said is his “favorite community college instructor,” Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, and former Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer, a Republican.
Biden, who teaches English at a community college near Washington, D.C., traveled to Michigan with the president.
“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,” she said while introducing Obama.
Obama also announced $175 million in Labor Department grants to help create 34,000 apprenticeship slots around the country.
Before delving into the substance of his remarks, Obama said he was “a little freaked out” that his older daughter, 17-year-old Malia, started her senior year of high school this week and would be heading off to college soon.
The trip also offered a closer look at Jill Biden as her husband considers a run for president. She is said to share her husband’s concern about the family’s emotional readiness for another campaign following the recent death of their son, Beau, although her spokesman has said she supports the vice president in his career.
Jill Biden flew aboard Air Force One with Obama, exited the airplane with him after they arrived and rode with him in the limousine to campus, where they toured a technical education center and watched robots in action before they delivered remarks.
The audience of about 1,000 people groaned at her mispronunciations of the school’s name. “You’re correcting the teacher,” she said after the audience helped her out.