The XX Factor

What’s With Obama’s Praise for Central Piedmont Community College?

Jackie Bray, a Process Operator at the Siemens Charlotte Energy Hub and graduate of CPCC, stands left of First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2012 State of the Union speech.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Amid a State of the Union speech full of broad themes like economic fairness and shared social responsibility, President Obama’s mention of citizen Jackie Bray’s education at Central Piedmont Community College may have struck some viewers as being (in the words of one Slate staffer) somewhat “granular.” Here’s the part of the speech in question:

Jackie Bray is a single mom from North Carolina who was laid off from her job as a mechanic. Then Siemens opened a gas turbine factory in Charlotte, and formed a partnership with Central Piedmont Community College. The company helped the college design courses in laser and robotics training. It paid Jackie’s tuition, then hired her to help operate their plant.

Clearly, Bray got a great deal—Obama didn’t select CPCC at random.

Having grown up in the Charlotte area, I can vouch that the college is a pretty great institution. As a kid, I had occasion to visit one of CPCC’s six local campuses a number of times over the years—primarily as a young patron of the arts. They’re known in the community for having a wonderful theater program, and in the summer, camp and church groups cart in kids by the van-load to see My Fair Lady and similar fare.

Aside from my personal aesthetic training, however, the college offers a range of courses in common tech-school fields like dental assisting and early childhood education. And in a region of the country hard hit by the decline of textile manufacturing, CPCC is increasingly embodying the kind of “community career center” ethos that President Obama championed in his speech. In addition to the custom pre-hire retraining curriculum that helped Jackie Bray get a job with Siemens, CPCC offers preparation for the Career Readiness Certificate examinations, a skill assessment battery increasingly required for technically demanding manufacturing jobs.

Of course, Obama could just be trying to get in Charlotte’s good graces before the Democratic National Convention comes to town in September; but, if you agree with the President’s assertion that a major part of the economic recovery will depend not only on creating new jobs, but also being sufficiently skilled to take them, CPCC’s is not a bad model to follow.