In her first public event addressing higher education, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos lauded community colleges for their flexibility, innovation and the myriad roles they play in their communities.
Speaking at the Community College National Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C., DeVos emphasized community colleges’ role in workforce and economic development, citing vocation and career education in particular. She focused on the colleges’ ability to train workers for available jobs in growing fields such as nursing and advanced manufacturing.
The newly minted secretary noted that public two-year colleges will have a role in President Donald Trump’s plan to created 25 million new American jobs over the next decade. She briefly touched on Trump’s $1 trillion plan to revamp the nation’s infrastructure, which according to a recent analysis could create as many as 11 million new jobs over the next decade, including positions that would require at least an associate degree or postsecondary certificate.
“You are absolutely essential engines for … economic development locally and regionally,” DeVos said. “You help identify and close the skills gap between employers and job seekers so that U.S. businesses and industries can thrive and expand.”
The secretary also noted the colleges’ ability to provide services — such as child care — that allow nontraditional students to attain a higher education as well as their role in helping to prepare high schools students for college-level work.
“Community colleges are a uniquely American national asset,” DeVos said. “You are nimble, you are inclusive, you are entrepreneurial.”
DeVos complimented community colleges on their partnership with secondary schools, particularly on dual enrollment and early college programs that allow high school students to take college courses and earn credit as they work toward their diplomas. She cited Henry Ford College in her home state of Michigan as a prime example of such innovative approaches.
Although she didn’t mention the administration’s specific plans for higher education, DeVos did note in passing issues important to community colleges, from reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and Perkins Act, to offering year-round Pell grants to students so they can attain their college credential more quickly.
DeVos concluded by saying that the department looks forward to working with community colleges and to highlighting successful local initiatives.
DeVos was confirmed for the post last week after a rocky nomination battle in which Vice President Mike Pence cast a historic tie-breaking vote to secure her confirmation. She similarly praised community colleges during her Senate confirmation hearing last month.