CLEVELAND: Speaking before a packed ballroom at the Cleveland Renaissance Hotel, former President Bill Clinton on Thursday praised Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) and institutions like it as central to America’s economic future.
Clinton was the keynote speaker at the Cuyahoga Community College Foundation’s 2013 Presidential Scholarship Luncheon.
The luncheon, a fundraiser for the college’s scholarship fund, was attended by prominent Northeast Ohio figures in business, public policy and philanthropy. A record $1.5 million was raised for student scholarships.
The former president used his speech to make a case that cooperation should be the watchword for the 21st century.
The 45-minute address was built around the community college as a vitally important resource for educating or re-educating citizens to solve economic displacements and improve productivity. He said the versatility of community colleges is a way the U.S. and other countries should operate.
“My belief is that all of America should work like community colleges work,” he said. “They’re highly flexible, they change the curriculum all the time based on demand … and they seem to get very good results.”
Clinton referenced The Next American Economy by author William J. Holstein, who argues that the way for the U.S. to compete with China is to create smart partnerships between private enterprise and government. The goal is to build a flexible, well-educated workforce that can adjust to changing global market conditions.
One of the ways America can stay flexible, according to Holstein, is through funding its community colleges, whose curricula continually evolve to satisfy changing market needs.
One chapter in Holstein’s book cites the success Tri-C has had in helping to train the workforce to meet market needs. Attendees at the luncheon were given a copy of the book.
To illustrate a successful partnership between the private sector and government, Clinton spoke about the Human Genome Project funded under his administration.
“San Diego used to be the naval capital of America. Still an important part of the national defense network,” Clinton said. “But today it’s the human genome capital of America. I spent $3 million of your money to sequence the human genome and it was worth every penny of it.
“We’re getting $140 worth of benefit for every dollar we spent on that.”
With his speech coming the day after the dramatic end to the government shutdown, Clinton turned to the topic to illustrate his point.
He linked his call for preferring cooperation over conflict to how cooperation ultimately solved the crisis.
“The Constitution is about honorable compromise,” he said. “Because compromise often gives you better results.”
Clinton said that social science has borne this out.
James Surowiecki’s book The Wisdom of Crowds, he explained, documents how a group of ordinary people can generally make a better decision than a lone genius.
“But you must revere the system,” he said. “This last little episode caused us some serious trouble around the world. And more important to me, it took our mind off the ball.’’
To illustrate how conflict rather than cooperation can hamper the U.S. position in the world economy, Clinton turned to China.
“The shutdown cost us $24 billion and did more harm here and around the world than anything else,” he said. “The Chinese were out there dancing on our grave. The head of the Chinese news agency said, and I quote, ‘It is time to de-Americanize the world.’ ”
In a question and answer session, Tri-C President Alex Johnson asked Clinton what had caused the shutdown.
“A very substantial number of Republicans who were elected, particularly from ultra-safe seats, recommended an agenda dedicated to the proposition that the federal government is a really bad deal,” Clinton said. ‘‘And that the more it can be restricted, the more taxes can be cut without regard to the consequences, the better off we will be.
“And use any means or ends to achieve that goal.”