The White House statement is rather bland. It says President Obama will speak at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College Thursday to address “the importance of job-driven skills training.” The stop comes amid two fundraisers with ticket prices as high as $32,400.
With so many options for a Southern California appearance, why Trade Tech, a public two-year college located south of downtown, just a few blocks from Staples Center?
“They have been called a game changer in higher education,” says Estela Mara Bensimon, co-director of the Center for Urban Education at the USC Rossier School of Education.
Trade Tech is integrating academic departments and “embedding” counselors to help students more easily navigate the curriculum, says Bensimon. “These students at Trade Tech need a lot of support in basic skills development.”
“Too often, schools blame students for being underprepared,” Bensimon says.
For a Democratic president who has talked a lot about how community colleges can help minority and low-income students, it’s a perfect venue. Obama wants community colleges to produce an additional five million graduates in the next five years, though efforts to pump billions more federal dollars into the effort have been stymied by deficit-conscious Republicans.
The stop at Trade Tech takes the president out of the ritzy neighborhoods of his fundraisers and places him in front of many people who are struggling to complete their education and find a way to make a living. This is Los Angeles, where the gap between the rich and the poor is wide. By going to Trade Tech, the president traverses that gap.
More than 15,000 students attend Trade Tech, one of the nine colleges in the Los Angeles Community College District. Fifty-five percent are Latino and 27-percent are African American. One quarter of the students are over the age of 35, says Bensimon, who is conducting research on the school as part of a Ford Foundation grant.
Trade Tech has a wide variety of programs for jobs in healthcare, the building trades, fashion, automotive mechanics and culinary science. The school also recently instituted a new program for military veterans. It’s a seven-week “Apprenticeship Preparation Boot Camp” for a career in construction.
“I’m not surprised President Obama chose Trade Tech,” says Bensimon.
“Having the president come to Los Angeles to a place like Trade Tech is really important,” says June Bayha of WestEd, a national advocacy organization that focuses on equity. “The president going to a community college shows that there are a lot of different options available – not just four-year colleges.”
“In the coming years, jobs requiring at least an associate degree are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college experience,” President Obama said earlier this year. “We will not fill those jobs – or keep those jobs on our shores – without the training offered by community colleges.”
President Obama is scheduled to speak at Trade Tech around 1:15 pm on Thursday.
Of course touting the benefits of community colleges is not the only reason for Obama’s visit to Los Angeles. Earlier Thursday, he attends a roundtable discussion at the home of Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino. Just 30 people are attending, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Tickets are $32,400 per person, the maximum allowable under federal law.
The president is due to arrive in Los Angeles on Wednesday for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at the home of Grey’s Anatomy television producer Shonda Rhimes. Tickets range from $1,000 to $32,400.