If the United States is to meet the President’s goal of once again having the highest college attainment rate in the world by 2020, community colleges must lead the way.
President Barack Obama 
Proclamations from Washington containing the words “if” and “must” are never a good thing. They precede wars, massive spending bills, and tax increases. In the case of Skills for America’s Future, we have a little of everything in the service of an initiative that makes no sense.
A provision snuck into the health care bill that cut banks out of the federal student loan business effective July 1, 2010, eliminating what the president referred to as “…tens of billions in wasteful subsidies for banks to administer student loans.”  This is a curious move, considering we just voted to offer a $30 billion helping hand to community banks under the guise of stimulating small business lending.
The health bill also threw $36 billion at the Pell Grant Program, which benefits lower income students. A provision was included to fund annual increases to the base grants. As the name implies, Pell Grants are not student loans, and are not paid back.
The recent PR push for Skills for America’s Future claims that the program will “… build high-impact partnerships with industry, labor unions, community colleges and other training providers in all 50 states.”  Why private industry would want a partnership with this administration is a question the president should consider, given his unrelenting criticism and the resulting business uncertainty that has stifled job creation. Remarks hinting at further federal interference in private sector affairs will only make matters worse:
In addition, the President will also announce the establishment of a federal Skills for America’s Future Task Force, co-chaired by top-level administration policymakers, to coordinate federal efforts and ensure the private sector is best poised to work with and leverage federal training and education efforts. 
Spending tens of billions on grants so students can invest the money in struggling community colleges is not a solution to intractable unemployment. Suggesting that the federal government will make sure the private sector is ready to “work with federal training and education efforts” suggests that a federal decision has already been made as to where new jobs are going to come from
What problem is Skills for America’s Future trying to solve? Statements by administration officials are conflicting, contradictory, and hint at much larger changes to come. Consider the following remarks by Education Secretary Arne Duncan:
The math is stark. According to our projections, five million of the eight million additional college graduates needed to meet the 2020 goal will be community college graduates….
First, community colleges need to better address the needs of older adults with little or no college experience who are finding it more and more difficult to find meaningful work in the information age….
Second, we need to systematically reorient the preK-16 system so that federal, state, district, and postsecondary programs to do more to support earning a degree or certificate….
And we want to hold our institutions accountable….
We need seamless articulation between high schools and community colleges, and between community colleges and universities…. 
The president may have a goal of graduating up to eight million more students from college by 2020, but community colleges do not grant four-year degrees, at least not yet, and students who cannot afford to go to a community college without federal assistance will not be able to pay for two years at a degree-granting institution. Do we plan to turn these two-year schools into four-year degree mills, will we provide even more assistance for the final two years of college at another institution, or will America’s new college “degree” be a two-year certificate?
Sending the unemployed and underemployed to school to learn new skills does not address the job creation problem. The private sector does not create jobs to match the educational curricula of community colleges. It creates the jobs it needs, and last month it created only a handful. Employers are rife with stories of people at all skill levels responding to a single job ad because they are willing to do anything.
“Seamless articulation” and “systematically reorient” sound like a lot more change than job training and spending $36 billion on Pell Grants. Given this administration’s dislike of all things non-public, and its endorsement of all things labor, is this the first hint of a federal retooling of our education system to meet the downsized needs of a planned economy? Consider that health care, infrastructure, broadband expansion, and green energy are goals of this administration, and then consider the following statement about community colleges:
You are educating the workforce of the future—the radiologic technicians; the registered nurses; the installation experts on solar and wind power; the IT and cyber-security technicians; the displaced workers in need of retraining and new careers; and scientists and other professionals. 
Community colleges do not train “scientists and other professionals,” though they may send them on the path to a four-year degree. Education is a wonderful thing, but we need jobs. The Skills initiative puts the cart before the horse, and does not tell us why. Private industry is not creating jobs, and a community college bailout that funnels students into service jobs while our manufacturing sector vanishes is not going to change that.
1..U.S. Department of Education. The Linchpin: The New Mission of Community Colleges. Secretary Arne Duncan’s Remarks at the White House Summit on Community Colleges. October 5, 2010. http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/linchpin-new-mission-community-colleges, retrieved October 13, 2010.
2..The White House. Office of the Press Secretary. Weekly Address: President Obama Underscores Commitment to Strengthening Our Education System. October 9, 2010. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/10/09/weekly-address-president-obama-underscores-commitment-strengthening-our-, retrieved October 13, 2010.
3..The White House. Office of the Press Secretary. President Obama to Announce Launch of Skills for America’s Future. October 4, 2010. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/10/04/president-obama-announce-launch-skills-america-s-future, retrieved October 13, 2010.
4.. President Obama to Announce Launch of Skills for America’s Future. October 4, 2010.
5.. Secretary Arne Duncan’s Remarks at the White House Summit on Community Colleges. October 5, 2010.
6.. Secretary Arne Duncan’s Remarks at the White House Summit on Community Colleges. October 5, 2010.