America entered the 20th century as the world’s pre-eminent economic power, and in the following decades, it continued to prosper due in large part to its commitment to universal public high school education. We made high school free and universal at a time when other countries called that wasteful, and as a result, we created the most highly skilled workforce in the world. In the 1950s, American teenagers were three times as likely to be in school full-time compared to European teenagers. Unfortunately, we have lost that edge, and today we are struggling to keep up with the education rates of other advanced democracies.
In the 21st century, we need to once again lead the world in providing universal access to education. Today, the Administration announced a proposal that would give every American willing to work for it the opportunity to receive at least two years of education beyond high school for free. This program will create partnerships with states to help them waive tuition at community colleges for students who maintain a minimum GPA and progress towards graduation, cutting in half the cost of a four-year degree for those who continue their studies. It will also improve the quality of community colleges, by strengthening their ability to prepare students for either four-year programs or occupational programs in key fields such as nursing, information technology, and advanced manufacturing.