In his annual State of the Union address on January 28, President Obama emphasized the importance of providing "opportunity for all." Citing progress on the country's economic recovery, he acknowledged that average wages remained stagnant and many middle-class families continued to struggle. He offered several proposals to help individuals gain the necessary skills to secure good jobs, including more apprenticeships and improved job training. And he talked about "connecting companies to community colleges that can help design training to fill their specific needs."
Noting that the bipartisan budget that Congress approved in December allowed for "some of the last year's severe cuts to priorities like education" to be reversed, the president said that more could be done to invest in the nation's future while reducing the deficit. Some initiatives would require Congressional action, but others could be accomplished through executive action.
President Obama cited several examples of efforts that have not required legislative action. The Joining Forces alliance has succeeded in encouraging "employers to hire or train 400,000 veterans and military spouses" and the recent College Opportunity Summit resulted in more than 150 colleges, businesses, and other organizations pledging to help increase access to college for low-income students. Announcing that he had asked Vice President Joe Biden to "lead an across-the-board reform of America's training programs" to ensure that more people acquired the skills employers needed now, he explained that this would entail more on-the-job training and more apprenticeships as well as having companies work with community colleges on specific training needs. "And if Congress wants to help," it could "concentrate funding on proven programs that connect more ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs."
The president also spoke about preparing tomorrow's workforce "by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education." He mentioned the importance of pre-K and strong K-12 STEM education, as well as redesigning high schools to provide hands-on job training opportunities. He spoke of the importance of access to college and how income-based loan repayment was helping students.
While another community college priority—passage of the DREAM Act—was not mentioned directly, the president did call for comprehensive immigration reform. This reflected the theme of his speech, "Opportunity for All."
More details are expected when the president's FY 2015 budget is unveiled in early March.