President Clinton asked Congress on Friday to approve his educational proposals that would help low-income Americans pay the costs of attending community colleges.
The president, in remarks at San Jacinto Community College, touted his plans for a $700 million increase in federal education grants for low-income adults and for a $47.5 million program for voluntary standardized tests for grade-school reading and math.
Speaking in a gymnasium before a banner proclaiming that community colleges are “a gateway to the economy,” Clinton said his education proposals and the educational provisions in the balanced budget package will enable the nation to say “that we have opened the doors of college to all Americans who are willing to work for it.”
Clinton’s appearance at San Jacinto Community College was his 13th visit to a community college as part of his campaign to make two years of community college education as universal s a high school education. The proposal was a centerpiece of his Feb. 4 State of the Union address.
Some 5.3 million credit-earning students attend 1,200 community colleges across the nation. A community college graduate earns almost $1.1 million over the course of a lifetime - more than four times the amount of an average American with a high school education.
The president compared access to two years of community college to the 160-acre federal land grants awarded in the 19th century to homesteaders, who agreed to live and farm the land for at least a year.
Clinton said the Pell grants that help low-income students attend college will be the 21st century equivalent of land grants in the 19th century.
The onrushing global economy is now a “knowledge economy” in which Americans “know that what they know is their key to the future - not what they own,” Clinton said.
Clinton promoted additional government assistance for college students two days after the College Board reported that tuition and fees at four-year colleges had increased an average 5 percent this year, although the over-all rate of inflation was below 3 percent.
Clinton spoke as members of the House and Senate struggled to resolve their disagreements on a $279 billion spending measure designed to provide operating funds for the departments of education, labor and health and human services for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Clinton wants the House-Senate conference committee to boost funding for educational grants from $2,700 a year to $3,000 a year to help more low-income adult students pay for college expenses under the Pell grant program.
The White House says 1.4 million community college students would receive an average grant of $1,810 in the next academic year if Congress approves the plan, at a total cost of $2.6 billion.
Meanwhile, the White House’s education legislation in the Republican-led Congress got a boost when 43 Democratic senators vowed to stage a Senate filibuster against any education measure that didn’t include Clinton’s proposals. Under the rules of the 100-member Senate, 41 senators or more can prevent action on any legislation.
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