Editorial, Issue 2: State of the Union promises education reform

Feb. 10

President Obama has always been impressively articulate, and of course the 2014 State of the Union address was no exception.

The president touched on several politically relevant issues in his speech, including minimum wage, equal pay, tax reform and the wars in the Middle East. All excellent topics, but here at the Oak Leaf we’re most interested in his points on improving education.

Fortunately, Santa Rosa Junior College is ahead of the curve on many of the promises Obama laid out in his speech.

There is a plan in motion “to connect 99 percent of our students to high-speed broadband over the next four years.” Obama announced Feb. 4 that corporations including Apple, AT&T, Microsoft, Sprint and Verizon will contribute $750 million of hardware, software and high-speed Internet services over the next few years. The Federal Communications Commission also plans to invest $2 billion to upgrade broadband networks for schools and libraries.

SRJC’s extensive computer network means that students probably won’t see many direct results from this windfall, aimed primarily at poor and rural communities without the means to provide adequate broadband on their own.

Sonoma County voters passed the Measure A bond in 2002 that helped to fund many infrastructure and technological improvements, including the construction of Doyle Library, which houses 280 computer stations. Sonic.net, a local ISP that started up at SRJC, provides free WiFi for the campuses.

Obama also called for “an across-the-board reform of America’s training programs,” citing a need to streamline the transitions between high schools, higher education programs and companies looking to hire well-trained applicants.

SRJC has a Career and Technical Education program that already fulfills this need by working with instructors from local high schools, allowing them to develop coursework that can be accepted at the college level. Students in these courses can worry less about having to take redundant classes that they’re already proficient in, and can get advanced placement in SRJC’s programs.

For those already at SRJC looking to move into a career, the Career Development Services Department helps students define career goals, plan job searches and prepare résumés. These free services are located on the third floor of the Bertolini Student Services Center, another building constructed using funds from Measure A.

Two for two, while students stay at SRJC. Transferring to four-year universities is still another matter – namely, paying for it.

Obama’s final vow on the subject of education was to cap monthly student loans at 10 percent of their income, down from 15 percent – a welcome reduction for those looking to transfer once they leave SRJC.

Current student loan laws are incredibly nebulous. Most students are completely unprepared to navigate the murky legalese found in finance law.  In an inspired move, Obama’s administration is making plans this year with Intuit, the creator of the popular TurboTax Online software, to steer students through the double-speak so they can find loan plans better suited to their individual needs.

Best of luck with your reforms, Mr. President. We’re doing OK here at SRJC, but it’s a big, expensive world out there.