DEGREES OF SPEED….Though the economy is improving, 15 million Americans remain out of work. And unlike their counterparts in previous recessions, many of these people haven’t just lost their jobs — they’ve lost their careers, in industries that won’t bounce back as the economy does. To get these folks back to work in decent jobs will require a retraining effort of historic proportions.

The Obama administration seems to understand this. It has recently garnered $2 billion from Congress for the nation’s community colleges, which offer low-cost education to people of all kinds of economic and academic backgrounds. But in the May/June issue of the Washington Monthly, Jamie Merisotis and Stan Jones report that too few of these schools are up to the task. Their graduation rates are low, their job placement capacities thin, and their curricula seldom designed to provide the unemployed with what they most need: a college credential they can earn quickly, so they can get back into the workforce. For-profit colleges typically have programs better tailored to the needs of unemployed adults, but are many times more expensive and too often offer subpar training.

What the unemployed really need are colleges that combine the best of both kinds of schools: the low-cost and public mission of community colleges with the job-focused curricula of the best for-profits. Fortunately, there is a model public college system already up and running that does precisely that, with stunningly successful results. That model could be spread nationwide in a matter of months, not years, with an investment of federal money that is already in the budget.

Everyone agrees that Washington should be focused on the unemployment problem. Giving the unemployed better options to upgrade their skills is something government can actually do, and quickly, without breaking the bank.

Check out “Degrees of Speed” by Jamie Merisotis and Stan Jones.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.