Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Obama advocates for community colleges

Look, private colleges are O.K. I hear they have some good ones in places like Cambridge and Palo Alto and Oberlin. But, as a graduate of one community college and two land-grant universities, I'm a firm believer in public-funded higher learning.

Yesterday, Pres. Obama unveiled the American Graduation Initiative, a 10-year, $12 billion plan to invest in community colleges.

During his announcement at Macomb Community College in Warren, Michigan, Obama noted that the economic recession and a changing U.S. economy have reduced the number of automotive industry jobs, a mainstay in Michigan.

The "hard truth is that some of the jobs that have been lost in the auto industry and elsewhere won't be coming back. They are casualties of a changing economy," Obama said, adding that "even before this recession hit, we were faced with an economy that was simply not creating or sustaining enough new, well-paying jobs."

Obama called the investment in community colleges crucial because "jobs requiring at least an associate degree are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college experience" in coming years.

I enjoyed my classes at Daytona Beach Junior College (then D.B. Community College and now Daytona State College) more than I did the first two years at Enormous State University in a C.S.A. state. At 22, I was older by a few years, time tested and weathered after a sojourns as a college ROTC dropout wandering the U.S. That may have helped. Time to knuckle down and take enough courses to graduate and head off to another Enormous State University. I rode my bike or hitched a ride to class, and spent off hours at the library or canoodling with my girlfriend who lived a few blocks away.

At 3, I clocked into my job at Halifax Hospital where I spent the next eight hours riding herd on alkies and druggies dredged off Daytona's streets and thrown into the place officially labeled 1100 but we called it the drunk tank. Usually there were two orderlies working behind the ward's locked doors. Sometimes it was just me. I was a big dude, and I held the keys to the kingdom, so they didn't mess with me. We all played cards and told stories, some of which were true. Every so often a patient would go into D.T.'s or devolve into a seizure. I was ready for either. Every so often a call came over the loudspeakers for "Dr. Blue." That meant that all the ordleries were needed at 1400 -- the psych ward. Some very large loonie the size of Chief Broom was going haywire, knocking down doctors and nurses like a scythe through Kansas wheat. I was lucky -- I never got my teeth knocked out during those calls. Usually it took three or four of us to subdue the subject. A few scrapes, a few stories for later regaling at Big Daddy's Bar.

Education comes in many forms. I graduated in May 1974 with a group of auto mechanics and nurses and dental hygienists and pre-law candidates and a few other misguided English majors. I quit my job that August, saying my farewells to the patients (I knew them all by then) and the ghosts and some of my compatriots who were still working on their educations. I headed 100 miles up the road to Gainesville and the next phase of my public education, paid for with loans and work-study jobs. I graduated from UF in 1976 and kept moving on, eventually landing in Denver in 1978 for the adult phase of my education.

The education never ended. Nor will it. I've taught at several community colleges. I like the range of students -- 18 to 78. Some who are just taking composition 101 for the credit and don't give a hoot about the minimalism of Carver and the maximalism of Henry James. Others are like the Vietnam vet whose daughter urged him to finish his associate's degree at the same time she earned hers. Or the grandmother who travelled 140 miles round trip from Kimball, Nebraska, to Cheyenne to take my creative writing class. She had stories to tell. Or the Air Police zoomie who loved to write -- and told me the stories of the ghosts swirling around Warren AFB. Or the recent divorcee who kept journals for the 20 years of her marriage but ripped them up in a burst of anger. And now she wanted to resurrect those shredded memories.

It's not too outlandish to say that there's a direct line from my time at community colleges to my work last year to elect Obama. Sure, Harvard is great. But real democracy is born in the crowded halls and classrooms of your local community college.

Take time to check out the American Graduation Initiative at

1 comment:

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