Rahm Emanuel and Bill Haslam on postsecondary education in Chicago and Tennessee; Washington demonstrates leadership

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam discuss their efforts to promote postsecondary education. 

As the Republican governor of Tennessee and the Democratic mayor of Chicago, we have both launched efforts to improve access to community college and to increase educational attainment…

Two years ago Tennessee launched the nation’s first statewide program to provide free access to community and technical college. Tennessee Promise offers last-dollar scholarships and volunteer mentors to high-school graduates, eliminating barriers to college access and success…

Meantime, Chicago launched the STAR Scholarship, which makes community college free for seniors graduating from public schools with a B average or better.

We won’t go into the details of the two plans. Those of you who want to follow up will find plenty of information on the respective governmental websites. And it’s important to recognize that people mean different things when they talk about “free” community college (some provocative dissenting views in this Brookings Institution commentary by Stuart Butler and U.S. News column by Kevin James).

What’s important about the WSJ op-ed is the bipartisan recognition of the changing workplace and the need for postsecondary training and education. 

But getting people to college isn’t enough. They need to learn real-world skills too. That’s why we are working with local employers—like Aon in Chicago and Bridgestone in Tennessee—to develop community-college curricula that prepare students for good-paying jobs with their companies. Firms from industries such as hospitality, health care, logistics and auto manufacturing have also gotten involved.

Yesterday we wrote of how the landmark tuition cuts passed by the Legislature in 2015 are improving access to the state’s colleges and universities. That’s one solid step toward guaranteeing that students have access to the education and training they’ll need to take advantage of the opportunities being created in the state economy.

We are also struck by how much Washington has already forged the public-private alliances Emanuel and Haslam mention. Last April, we discussed them in this post.

Sure, there’s more to do here, probably much more, and it pays to watch and learn from other states and regions. But it’s also good to recognize and appreciate steps already being taken in Washington to promote the postsecondary education that will be required for 70 percent of the jobs in the state in 2020.