Thomas Bailey is the George and Abby O’Neill professor of economics and education and the director of the Community College Research Center and of the National Center for Postsecondary Research, both housed at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Last summer President Barack Obama proposed a 10-year, $12 billion initiative to increase significantly the number of community college graduates. He made the announcement at Macomb Community College, where he was introduced by Joe Iezzi, a 54-year-old Macomb graduate who had been laid off after working as a steelworker in the automobile industry for 23 years. When the auto-parts supplier he worked for closed down, Iezzi returned to college to complete an associate degree in heating and air conditioning, a credential that helped land him a full-time job at a local hospital. His case was a perfect example of the role community colleges could play in retooling the human capital of a dynamic economy as labor is shed from declining industries and is sought by growing sectors.