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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

April 27 (Bloomberg) — Anyone with half a brain knows that bolstering the middle class is critical to securing the future of the U.S. It’s a matter of national self-interest.

Setting aside the misery of poverty for a minute, the rich need a skilled middle-class workforce to make their businesses successful or they won’t stay rich for long.

Skills, of course, require education, which is why it’s nutty that Republican House members want to cut Pell grants and are making unreasonable demands in the debate over preventing the federal interest rate on student loans from shooting up. But conservatives have a point that a lot of federal support goes to students who don’t finish community college.

We need to move faster to improve these schools. They aren’t Harvard — and they might not be sexy to talk about on the campaign trail — but they make up a growing share of the college market. And nowadays they are the primary engine powering people into the middle class.

Unfortunately, these institutions are often failing. The overall graduation rate for two-year community colleges (measured after six years from entrance) is only about 25 percent. In Chicago, it’s a pathetic 10 percent, which led Mayor Rahm Emanuel to blow up the system and turn over much of the curriculum to local employers looking to train workers in health care, hospitality and the like. He explained to me recently that the city has an unemployment rate of close to 10 percent and 100,000 job vacancies because not enough people are trained. If he can’t fix the community colleges, he can’t fix Chicago.