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Obama Announces Educational Opportunities for Displaced Workers

Includes Introduction of Opportunity.gov and Expansion of Pell Grants Program

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Official Transcript from WhiteHouse.gov:

And that's what Maureen Pike did. Maureen lost her job as a physician's receptionist, but she didn't lose hope. She took it as an opportunity to upgrade her skills and earned an associate's degree in nursing from a community college. As a consequence, today she works as a registered nurse.

The only reason she could afford to do that while supporting her twins was because the state of Maine allowed her to keep her unemployment benefits and study with the help from a Pell Grant. Pell Grants cover tuition at almost every community college in the country, and unemployment benefits can help those studying to gain new skills to support their families at the same time.

But today, far too many Americans are denied that opportunity. Let me just give you an example. Say an unemployed factory worker wants to upgrade his skills to become a mechanic or a technician. In many states, that worker might lose temporary financial support if he enrolls in a training program. And to make matters worse, unemployment might mean he can't afford higher education, and he likely won't qualify for federal help simply because he may have made a decent salary a year ago, before he was laid off.

Well, that doesn't make much sense for our economy or our country. So we're going to change it. First, we'll open new doors to higher education and job training programs to recently laid-off workers who are receiving unemployment benefits. And if those displaced workers need help paying for their education, they should get it -- and that's why the next step is to make it easier for them to receive Pell Grants of the sort that Maureen used.

I've asked my Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and my Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, to work closely with states and our institutions of higher learning and encourage them not only to allow these changes, but to inform all workers receiving unemployment benefits of the training programs and financial support open to them. And together, the Department of Education and the Department of Labor have created a new website called opportunity.gov -- I'll repeat that, opportunity.gov -- to help workers discover and take advantage of these opportunities.

And together, these changes will increase access to education and opportunity for hundreds of thousands of workers who've been stung by this recession -- people just like Maureen. And like her, many may take advantage of one of America's underappreciated assets -- and that's our community colleges. These schools offer practical education and technical training, and they're increasingly important centers of learning where Americans can prepare for the jobs of the future.

And that's also why I'm asking Dr. Jill Biden, a community college professor who's devoted her entire life to education -- and who happens to be married to the Vice President -- to lead a national effort to raise awareness about what we're doing to open the doors to our community colleges.

So I think this is one more piece of the puzzle. It's a good start. It is only a start, though. These steps are just a short-term down payment on our larger goal of ensuring that all Americans get the skills and education they need to succeed in today's economy. And to that end, I have asked once again every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. It can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship; but whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And we will be backing up that effort with the support necessary. And we will ensure that by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

In the weeks to come, I will also lay out a fundamental rethinking of our job training, vocational education, and community college programs. It's time to move beyond the idea that we need several different programs to address several different problems -- we need one comprehensive policy that addresses our comprehensive challenges.

That's how we'll open the doors of opportunity and lay a new foundation for our economic growth -- by investing in our citizens. That's how we've always emerged from tough times stronger than before -- because of the hard work and determination and ingenuity of the American people. And I am confident that if we summon that spirit once again, we will get through this; we will see our nation recover; and together, along with folks like Maureen and Sharon, we're going to put America on the path to shared and lasting prosperity once again.

Thank you very much everybody. Have a great weekend.

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