Community colleges: Front and center in Biden’s plan

During an online Democratic rally on Tuesday, Dr. Jill Binden highlighted the role community colleges would play in her husband's plan for economic recovery. (Screenshot of streamed event)

Dr. Jill Biden returned to the virtual campaign trail on Tuesday to champion her husband’s proposal to make community colleges a central component of his education, workforce and economic plans, if he is elected president.

Joe Biden’s plan for postsecondary education, which his campaign released almost a year ago, includes tuition-free community college for two years, help with wraparound services for two-year college students and $50 billion for high-quality training programs.

“Joe and I both know the transformational power of community colleges to help our economy recover,” Jill Biden said Tuesday at a virtual Democratic rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, which in July approved the state’s first new community college in 28 years.

She noted that community colleges previously played a key role in the Obama administration’s plan for economic recovery during the 2008 recession. The longtime community college English professor said her husband wants to again make community colleges central to the current economic slump by offering two years of community college at no cost to students. He also would provide “other high-quality training programs without debt,” she said.

Reviving previous ideas

Many of the presidential nominee’s ideas stem from his time as vice president during the Obama administration, include free community college and expanding apprenticeships (which Biden announced at the 2014 American Association of Community Colleges annual convention). Jill Biden on Tuesday focused heavily on the benefits of two-year colleges to the economy. She said community colleges were central in the Obama administration’s plan to spark the economy during the Great Recession through a four-year, $1.9 billion workforce development program.

Even students who want a four-year degree can benefit from the free-tuition plan, Biden said. To help contain college costs, those students can go to a community college for free and later transfer to a four-year state college.

“There are so many options,” she said, noting dual enrollment and other programs that serve an array of students.

Illustrating the benefits

Jill Biden touched on the main points of the former vice president’s plan for community colleges through examples of who the plan would help and how. Aside from their economic and workforce development value, she noted that two-year colleges help students in other ways to help them succeed. Community college students often face barriers to their success, and typically juggle work, family obligations and school.

Biden told of a mentoring group for women that she started at Northern Virginia Community College, where she has taught since 2009. She helped to tutor one woman who escaped from an abusive marriage and had to live with her children in a car and then at a domestic violence center. With some additional services, the student excelled in her academics and eventually graduated from George Mason University. She is now an accountant.

“There is nothing more important to our democracy or the future of our nation than giving our students the kind of educational opportunities that they deserve,” Biden said. “And it’s clear: Community colleges change lives.”

Jill Biden also said her husband wants to make sure colleges and universities have clear guidelines and protective equipment to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In addition, he would invest $8 billion to make sure students have the broadband and technology they need for remote learning, as well as counseling and mental health support for students and teachers, she said.

A look at Biden’s plan

According to the Biden campaign’s website, part-time students, adults and Dreamers also could use Biden’s tuition-free community college plan, which would be a federal-state partnership, with the federal government covering 75 percent of the cost and states covering the rest.

Biden also would create a new grant program to assist community colleges in improving student success. It would support community colleges implementing evidence-based practices and innovative solutions to increase students’ retention and completion of credentials that could range from academic and career advising services, to dual enrollment and credit articulation agreements.

Biden’s plan also would help community college students with other expenses that often keep them from attaining a credential. His initiative would be a first-dollar program, “meaning that students will be able to use their Pell grants, state aid, and other aid to help them cover expenses beyond tuition and fees,” according to his campaign’s website.

In addition, the Biden plan would provide states financial incentives to develop collaborations between community colleges and community-based organizations for wraparound support services for students. And it calls for a grant program to help community colleges with emergency grant programs for students at risk of dropping out.

In regards to workforce development, the $50 billion investment would include increasing the number of registered apprenticeships, and encouraging community colleges to partner more with unions “who oversee some of the best apprenticeship programs throughout our nation, not watering down the quality of the apprenticeship system like President Trump is proposing” — a clear jab at the Trump administration’s push for industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs). Its supporters say IRAPs would skip much bureaucratic red tape, which would, in part, motivate more companies to participate in apprenticeships.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.