“We Must Do More”: At CCRC’s 20th anniversary celebration, Jill Biden calls for greater investment in community colleges
In one of her final public speeches as the Second Lady of the United States, Jill Biden called for continuation of efforts to improve and expand access, graduation rates and job placements of community college students.
At an event at Teachers College celebrating the 20th anniversary of TC’s Community College Research Center (CCRC) on November 17, Biden, a full-time community college professor and the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, said that research-based programs such as those at CCRC must continue if community colleges are to maintain their critical role in offering quality education and workforce preparation for all students.
[ Read a previous story on the 20th anniversary of CCRC, the nation’s leading authority on community colleges. ]
“While our administration has strived to make community colleges more affordable and more attractive for more students to attend college, there’s still so much more we can and must do,” Biden said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the outcomes. It’s about completion for purpose. It’s about getting our students on the right pathway with links to a good paying job so they can provide for themselves and their families.”
“At the end of the day, it’s all about the outcomes. It’s about completion for purpose. It’s about getting our students on the right pathway with links to a good paying job so they can provide for themselves and their families.”
As Second Lady, Biden has been a leader of the White House’s efforts to improve college access and affordability. She hosted the first White House Summit on Community Colleges in 2010, embarked on a Community College to Career bus tour that traveled 800 miles and reached seven cities in five states, and she has championed the institutions at venues as diverse as late-night talk shows and the Democratic National Convention.
In 2010, in one of the administration’s many efforts to renew focus on community colleges, President Obama signed legislation to expand college access through an overhaul of the student loan program and invest $2 billion in community college job training programs.
Biden, who that year was honored at TC’s Convocation ceremonies, said that community colleges will need to continue to research and pilot best practices; create and grow financial aid, social service and counseling services for community college students – many of whom have jobs and families – to help them enroll and stay in college; and improve the quality of instruction, especially in math. Nearly half of all the nation's college students are enrolled at community colleges.
“As many of us in this auditorium know well, Dr. Biden’s passion for community colleges is not new. Nor is her love for teaching,” said Bailey, introducing her to a capacity crowd at TC’s Cowin Conference Center. “Dr. Biden has been extremely effective in using her platform as a seasoned educator and Second Lady to call attention to the value and promise of two-year community colleges.”
TC President Susan Fuhrman thanked Biden for “her committed advocacy and leadership around educational access, as well as around women’s health, economic empowerment and services for veterans and their families.” She also hailed Biden for her service as a faculty member at Northern Virginia Community College.
“How many of you know that she taught three English classes today?” Fuhrman asked the crowd as she opened the evening.
Biden, in turn, thanked Bailey and CCRC for championing community colleges: “Because of your ground-breaking research, we can identify the challenges community college students face and paths to overcoming them. Because of you, individual colleges and policy makers can make better investments in what works and what doesn’t.”
But Biden asked CCRC to do more. “We must document the lived experience of our students,” she said.
As a professor, Biden hears from her students about the financial problems and family issues that threaten to derail their education. One mother of four couldn’t come to class because she couldn’t pay for parking. Another had been kicked out of the house by her mother and didn’t know who to talk to. Because of these and similar stories, community college advocates need to make the case for wraparound services, Biden said. Teaching should also be a focus of future research, and CCRC should work to identify the best teaching strategies, she said.
“Above all you must continue to document the case that we can’t afford not to invest in community colleges,” Biden said.
Along with Biden’s speech, the event featured a panel on the future of community colleges with CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken, SUNY Senior Vice Chancellor Johanna Duncan-Poitier, and Spencer Foundation President Michael McPherson. (To watch a video of the event click here.)
“Above all you must continue to document the case that we can’t afford not to invest in community colleges.”
The evening began with CCRC Director Thomas Bailey honoring Jesse Ausubel, who in 1995 as a program officer at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation suggested that Teachers College write a proposal to create a center to research community colleges.
“Jesse had had the following insight: While 40 to 50 percent of undergraduates attended community colleges and those students were disproportionately low income, minority, immigrant, and first-generation college students, less than 10 percent of research on higher education even mentioned community colleges,” Bailey said. “That insight led directly to the founding of CCRC.”
Ausubel said with the first grant in 1996 he gave CCRC one charge: to get out into the field to talk to community college students and staff rather than focusing solely on data.
“The enormous success of CCRC shows the value of seeing things with your own eyes,” Ausubel said.
The panel discussed ways to help more students complete college credentials, the role of philanthropy, keeping college affordable, and the need to close equity gaps in higher education.
Duncan-Poitier said SUNY has stopped saying that if high schools sent them better students, they would get better results. Instead, she emphasized the need to invest in evidence-based strategies, including those identified in CCRC research. Creating more coherent programs along a guided pathways model, for one, just makes sense, she said.
“We don’t have any more time for pilots,” Duncan-Poitier said. “We can’t just impact a few hundred or a few thousand students.”
McPherson noted the stubborn persistence of gaps in graduation rates between different groups.
“Not only is this deeply unfair, but it is also shockingly wasteful in a county that can’t afford that kind of waste,” McPherson said.
In light of the outcome of the recent presidential election, some of the speakers pointed to community colleges as a potential area for collaboration between the two major parties.
“It’s worth remembering, given the coming change in national leadership, that community colleges have never been represented as a partisan issue,” Bailey said, “and that working to strengthen and make more affordable institutions that open the door to college and college success for every student is a goal that we can all support.”
Biden reminded the audience that by the end of this decade, two-thirds of job openings will require some form of higher education.
“Too many hard-working Americans still feel that a college education is out of reach,” she said, calling for community college to be “free for all responsible students.”
Biden said after her husband leaves office in January, she will continue to teach, and to work on the campaign for free community college, called America’s College Promise, which has grown to 150 programs in 37 states.
“The secret on community colleges is out,” she said. “Our work now is more vital than ever. CCRC, I know you are up to this challenge.” – Elizabeth Ganga and Patricia Lamiell
Published Tuesday, Nov 22, 2016