Brooks: Obama College Plan Could ‘Spur a Wave of Innovation’

Conservative NY Times columnist David Brooks, a frequent critic of President Obama, has taken a hard look at the president’s plan for community colleges, and concluded that it’s “intelligently designed and boldly presented,” and could be transformative.

Obama last week announced a $12 billion plan to produce 5 million more community college grads in the next 12 years. Most of the money would go to programs that entice the colleges to lift graduation rates (about half of current students drop out) and better prepare students for jobs, with a smaller amount for modernizing facilities and developing Internet curriculum. Obama wants Congress to approve the plan before the August recess.

Says Brooks:

What’s important about the Obama initiative is that it doesn’t throw money at the problem. It ties money to reform and has the potential — the potential — to spur a wave of innovation.

Most of the colleges, Brooks writes, have poor accountability systems and inadequately track student outcomes.  Remedial classes are hampered by relentlessly low expectations.

The Obama initiative is designed to go right at these deeper problems. It sets up a significant innovation fund, which, if administered properly, could set in motion a spiral of change. It has specific provisions for remedial education, outcome tracking and online education. It links public sector training with specific private sector employers …

It’s a reminder that the Obama administration can produce hope and change — when the White House is the engine of policy creation and not the caboose.

This last line is in part a criticism of Obama — for choosing to let Congress take the lead on the details of health care reform, instead of leading from the White House. I think there are good reasons for this approach on health care, as I’ve blogged about before. It’s a lesson learned from Bill Clinton’s failed attempt at reform.

In any event, coming from David Brooks, this is high praise for one of the administration’s top priorities.

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