How $8 Billion for Community Colleges Became a Reality: A Fictional Conversation

By Kevin Kuzma, Online Editor

The following is a work of fiction.

“Good morning, Mr. President,” said Secretary Duncan as he entered the Oval Office.

“Come in, Arne. Have a seat. I’ll be right with you.”

Secretary Duncan sits across from the President whose attention is focused on his laptop. The President closes the lid and Duncan’s face is there.

“Ok, Arne. Let’s chat real fast.”

“How about those Bulls?”

“They are looking pretty tough. That Rose kid is a real heart attack. Ok, Arne. I wanted to meet with you first. I don’t think we need to discuss this with our full team of advisers.”

“What’s that, sir?”

“The community colleges plan."

“You know I’m a K-12 guy. Whatever you say goes … but we did leave the plan a bit … open, sir."

“How so, Arne?"

“We announced a little more than a year ago that we were providing funding to completely redo our community college system — with everything from online instruction programs to infrastructure improvements."

“Right. How's that been going?"

“Well, there's a lot of concern sir."

“Concern? Really … for what?"

“Well, our community college system is overwhelmed as it is. With the costs of colleges rising, we're at capacity all over the country. This hardly seems the time to make changes. And there are some members of the DOE who believe we can't compete with the for-profits."

“They worry too much. We have plans in place to address them."

“It's awful risky, sir. For decades, community colleges have been stepping stones for kids who either weren't quite ready or couldn't afford a four-year school. Now … we're asking them to provide career training-oriented programs."

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Everything we need to bring about the appropriate change is in place. Even the money."

“How much money, Mr. President?"

“How much did it take with the auto industry?"

“The auto industry … uh … "

“How much did it take, you know … to get GM and Chrysler back on track?"

“Seventy… eighty … we're talking in terms of billions of dollars here, Mr. President."

“Ok, let's go eight for education."

“Eight b-billion … for community colleges?"

“Yes. Sounds like a good round figure. Look … I’ll ask Congress for $70 billion overall in education spending. That’s about a 2.5 percent increase over last year. When you’re talking $70 billion overall, no one’s going to pay much attention to 8 – and it’s still about 10 billion less than what we spent on the auto bailout. These types of numbers are too large for the American public to comprehend.”

"Where's the money going to come from, sir?"

"We'll cut a bunch of other programs … and we’ll take all that financial aid money from the for-profit schools over the next four years. We’ll force the students that would have chosen them into community colleges, so we recoup the money. There’s no way we can fail."

Duncan thought about the President’s suggestion for a moment and smiled.

"The public loves education, no matter the cost,” Duncan said. “And, we have a chance to repair a broken community college system with money that would otherwise be in private hands. Sounds worth a shot.”

“I think it is, Mr. Secretary.”

"Thank you, Mr. President. I'll tell the others we don’t need to meet this week."

He stood and began to walk out of the oval office.

“Duncan … ?

“Yes, Mr. President?”

“The Bulls have a chance this year, don’t they?”

“If Rose stays healthy … Chicago all the way.”

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I like the storytelling mode. The book or movie comes out in about a year.