A Year of College for All: What the President's Plan Would Mean for the Country
President Obama hasn't met Serena Baker, but she may be just who he had in mind when he challenged every American to commit to a "year or more" of higher education or training.
A 28-year-old mother of four, she had spent eight years as a part-time cashier at a grocery store in Baltimore when she decided, just over a year ago, "to begin a career." After scanning the local job listings, she chose medical assisting, one of the nation's fastest-growing fields, and enrolled in a 13-month certificate program at the Community College of Baltimore County.
This week she will trade in her cashier's apron for hospital scrubs and a job at Baltimore's Mercy Hospital. Her salary won't go up much initially, but she hopes to make $10,000 to $15,000 a year more once she is certified. She sits for the test in July.
The president wants more Americans to follow Ms. Baker's example. In a speech before Congress in February, he called the nation's steep high-school dropout rates and low college-completion rates a "prescription for economic decline," and he urged all Americans to commit to a year of college, technical training, or apprenticeship.
If the country complies, the economic returns could be extraordinary. Nationwide some 101.5 million adults over the age of 18 — a full 45 percent of Americans — have never attended college, according to the Census Bureau. If each of them took a year's worth of college courses, their earnings would grow by $70-billion, according to estimates by the Center on Education and the Workforce, at Georgetown University.
The nation's employment picture would probably improve, too. Although the economic downturn has affected Americans at all education levels, it has hit the least educated hardest. In April people without a high-school diploma were twice as likely to be unemployed as those with "some college" or an associate degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.