WARREN, Mich. — President Obama came to Warren, Michigan’s third largest city and one that has been hit hard by the loss of auto jobs, to unveil a plan to help the nation’s community colleges.

As the president, speaking to a town hall forum at Macomb Community College, said, the nation’s unemployment rate is approaching 10 percent but it’s five points higher in Michigan.

Obama said a job is more than just a paycheck: “People need work not just for income but to be part of the fabric of the community.” And he reminded the audience that those who created the economic crisis and made it difficult to be part of that fabric now say “this is Obama’s economy.” “But I welcome the job and the responsibility,’ he continued.

He acknowledged that although General Motors and Chrysler have emerged in record time from bankruptcy, some will not be getting their old jobs back. The president presented a program to help these people and others like them become part of the 21st century economy.

The president’s address touched on the status of two-year post-secondary institutions. According to Obama, community colleges where student populations have traditionally been working class and racially diverse all too often are treated as the “stepchild to four-year schools.”

Among the initiatives the president announced were grants for programs that connect job training to available employment. Obama also announced $10 billion in loans to renovate classrooms across the country and the creation of new online courses making it easier for non-traditional and students in rural areas to have access to a greater variety of courses.

The president also announced a study to determine why 50 percent of students who enter community college fail to graduate, asking whether the problem lies in the regular jobs held down while going to school or in the weight of family responsibilities.

The end result of these efforts will hopefully be 5 million additional graduates by the year 2020.

Audience members expressed a concern whether jobs would be waiting for these graduates without greater stimulus to the economy.

Hospitals in Michigan are postponing construction projects and cutting their workforce because of the economic crisis.

The president also addressed health care and connected it to the crisis Michigan is facing. “This is a transformative moment,’ he said. ‘We have to slow the growth of health care costs that are driving us into debt. Don’t be fooled by those who say we can’t change the health care system.”

Taking on those who pit budget deficits against health care reform he said, “The best way to get control of deficits is to get health care reform.”

jrummel @ pww.org

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