Bush: Community Colleges Meet Employers' Needs

President Bush on Wednesday pointed to Maryland's community colleges (search) as an example of the kind of flexible job-training programs he wants nationwide for the next generation of skilled workers.

Bush emceed a five-member panel that included Gov. Robert Ehrlich (search) at Anne Arundel Community College to promote his $250 million proposal to increase the number of Americans enrolling in community college for job training.

The president opened with remarks on events in Lebanon this week, in which the pro-Syrian government dissolved after protests over the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister.

Bush said he spoke to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by phone on Tuesday during her trip to Europe.

"I applauded the press conference she held with the foreign minister of France where both of them stood up and said loud and clear to Syria, 'You get your troops and your secret service out of Lebanon so that good democracy has a chance to flourish,'" Bush said.

He then returned his attention to improving the U.S. economy -- a key to which is job training through community colleges, he said.

Community colleges can more easily adjust their curricula to suit local employers' needs, Bush said.

"I mean, if all of a sudden somebody pops up and says, 'We need more nurses,' it makes sense to have a community college system say, 'We'll help you (and) put the curriculum in place to train people for nursing,'" Bush said.

He gave fellow Republican Ehrlich a chance to tout the state's system.

"We're ahead of the curve," Ehrlich said. "We have done one-stop shops, we've consolidated programs -- basically along the model" that Bush is proposing.

Not one who's fond of jargon, Bush cut Ehrlich off.

"Nobody knows what 'one-stop shop' means," Bush said, drawing chuckles from the audience seated in the college's gymnasium.

Ehrlich then briefly explained the state-operated Maryland Community Colleges' Business Training Network (search), which helps match students with potential employers.

After the governor wrapped up, Bush turned the microphone over to Martha Smith, president of Anne Arundel Community College. Smith said her students' demands are changing from earning credits toward a degree to receiving job training.

"They want the skill set ... that is going to help them get into that workforce quickly and be successful and advance in that profession," said Smith, who sat next to Ehrlich on the panel.

The other panel members were Joyce Phillips, vice president of human resources at Anne Arundel Medical Center; Jeanetta Smith, who enrolled in Anne Arundel Community College's nursing program; and Elliott Ward, a pharmacy technician who trained at Baltimore City Community College.

Another part of Bush's education pitch was an increase in Pell Grants (search). Bush said Congress must also increase Pell Grants by $6 billion.The grants are intended to help students from poor families. The increase would boost the maximum $4,450 annual grant by $100.

The president's 2005-2006 budget would eliminate or cut about 50 education programs and shift some of the money to pay for the federal No Child Left Behind Act (search) aimed at raising student performance in public schools.

The result is a cut in overall education spending of $530 million, or nearly 1 percent, from the current fiscal year.

Bush's critics contend he is cutting vital programs, although the administration has said the programs were carefully studied before being deemed ineffective or redundant.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in a statement Wednesday that Bush was playing a "shell game."

"Eliminating funding from programs that work and repackaging them with a new name and smaller dollar amount does nothing to help our community colleges, our work force, or our economy," Hoyer said.

Among the programs Bush deemed to be ineffective is the Perkins Vocational and Technical Program, which funds job-training classes.

H. Clay Whitlow, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges (search), praised the $250 million proposal. But he said the elimination of the Perkins grant is troubling because it funds training for jobs that rely on technology, such as nursing.

"In fairness to the president, we also have to give him credit for raising visibility of community colleges," Whitlow said, adding that Bush has visited community colleges more often than any other president.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.