What will top Biden’s immediate to-do list?

In 2014, then-Vice President Joe Biden addressed members of the American Association of Community Colleges at its annual convention in Washington, D.C. (Photo: David Lienemann/Obama White House archives)

With a track record of supporting community colleges — coupled with a spouse who is a long-time champion of public two-year colleges — President-elect Joe Biden is likely to give community colleges a prominent role in not only his higher education plans but also economic and workforce development strategies.

“For American educators, this a great day for y’all. You’re going to have one of your own in the White House,” Biden said, referring to Dr. Jill Biden during his Saturday night speech hours after media reported he reached 270 electoral votes to win the White House.

Although the president-elect will tackle myriad issues, near the top of the list is getting the economy revved again and making sure Americans have the skills needed for current and emerging jobs. Workforce development is an area in which community colleges are well-versed.

“Joe and I both know the transformational power of community colleges to help our economy recover,” Jill Biden, a community college professor, said in September at a virtual Democratic rally.

At that rally, she noted that community colleges previously played a key role in the Obama administration’s economic recovery plan during the 2008 recession. Community college advocates hope a similar effort to that $1.9 billion workforce development program — called the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) program — might be on the horizon.

In July, the U.S. Department of Labor announced it would award a total of $40 million to community college-led partnerships to expand their training capacity through a new program called Strengthening Community College Training Grants (SCCTG). The program is intended to be a successor to previous similar programs, such as TAACCCT and the Community-Based Job Training Grants. A House funding bill proposed this summer would provide the SCCTG program with $50 million for fiscal year 2021.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan Senate bill introduced in February would create a grant program to help community colleges and states address changing workforce demands.

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According to his campaign, Biden would invest $50 billion in workforce development, which would include increasing the number of registered apprenticeships. (It was during the Obama administration that the then-vice president announced at the 2014 AACC annual convention the administration’s plan to use apprenticeships more as part of workforce development efforts.) He is 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 poke 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, particularly especially small businesses.

In their own words

Prior to the election, the Biden campaign provided the following statement to Community College Journal (our AACC sister publication) outlining his plans for higher education and, in particular, community colleges:

“Joe Biden is running for president to rebuild the backbone of the United States – the middle class – and to make sure everyone has a chance to come along. Dr. Jill Biden, a community college professor who championed community colleges during the Obama-Biden Administration, knows that community colleges are affordable, flexible and meet students where they are.

Joe Biden will invest in community colleges and training to improve student success and grow a stronger, more prosperous, and more inclusive middle class. As president, he will provide every American with access to two years of community college or other high-quality training program without debt. He will create a new grant program to support community colleges implementing evidence-based practices and innovative solutions to increase their students’ retention and completion of credentials (such as academic and career advising; dual enrollment; credit articulation agreements; and improvements to remediation programs). He will also tackle barriers that prevent students from completing their community college degree or training credential by providing wraparound support services for students, especially veterans, single parents, low-income students, students of color and students with disabilities who may face unique challenges. Wraparound support services can range from public benefits and additional financial aid to cover textbook and transportation costs that often keep students from staying enrolled, to child care and mental health services, faculty mentoring, tutoring and peer support groups.

Biden will also establish a grant program to help community colleges create emergency grant programs for students who experience an unexpected financial challenge that threatens their ability to stay enrolled.

Biden will invest $50 billion in workforce training, including community college-business partnerships and apprenticeships, as well as invest $8 billion to help community colleges improve their facilities and equip their schools with new technology that will empower their students to succeed in the 21st century.”

About the Author

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