It also would improve what are, in some cases, dismal graduation rates at these two-year institutions.
The initiative has passed the U.S. House. It's awaiting action by the Senate.
Let's hope the Senate follows the House's lead and passes this worthwhile legislation.
Meanwhile, at Gadsden State Community College — one of those community colleges that would benefit from the Obama plan — news is good. Enrollment at Gadsden State increased 17 percent this year, The Star reported this week. That's nearly twice the average increase statewide; it's also a remarkable trend since, as you know, money is tight.
Granted, Gadsden State's enrollment increase does not come as a complete surprise. Whenever the economy dips, laid-off workers and recent high school graduates without jobs often go to college. There, sheltered from the economic storm, they bide their time until things get better.
However, many, or maybe most, also take this opportunity to learn new skills or improve old ones. The result is a better-trained, better-educated workforce ready to move the state ahead when the economy improves and jobs return.
Of course, this puts pressure on the community colleges. Also burdened by the recession, their budgets have been cut and their offerings trimmed. Some can turn to less expensive, part-time, adjunct teachers to cover additional classes, but the overuse of adjuncts can often lead to accreditation problems. Moreover, it is difficult to find adjuncts to teach highly skilled technological courses.
Adding to the funding woes of Alabama's community colleges is their own frugality. The two-year system has held the line on tuition increases in recent years, despite funding cuts from Montgomery. That decision has been widely applauded, but it has left the schools with even less now.
College administrators are scrambling to find ways to meet the demands placed on them by the enrollment surge. Online courses and videoconferencing will help, but those innovations will not do it all. Like it or not, class sizes will be increased, offerings will be limited and some new students will not be able to get the courses required for graduation.
However, many will get the classes they need and use their new knowledge and skills to become more productive citizens.
If there is a bright spot for Alabama education in this recession, this may be it.