Biden brass visit Illinois, North Carolina community colleges

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona introduces First Lady Dr. Jill Biden at their visit to Sauk Valley Community College in Illinois. (Screenshot from streamed event)

The Biden administration on Monday sent some of its top brass to community colleges to advocate for several of the president’s proposals to revive the U.S. economy.

While Vice President Kamala Harris went to North Carolina’s Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC) to champion the American Jobs Plan, which focuses on rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure to help spark the U.S. economy, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona visited Sauk Valley Community College (SVCC) in Illinois to learn about a unique college promise program it is developing that will cover students’ tuition in exchange for community service.

Biden and Cardona toured the rural college with a special interest in its new Impact program, which will begin in summer 2022. Local high school students who complete 100 hours of volunteer work (25 hours each year) before graduating can attend SVCC for up to three years tuition-free, regardless of their major. To remain in the program, students must maintain at least a 2.0 GPA and continue to provide community service each year.

Cardona noted that if the program is successful, it could serve as a model for other colleges.

Biden cited the Impact program as one of the unique ways communities are developing college promise programs, which aim to help cover tuition and fees for eligible students. There are currently more 365 different promise programs across the country, including 31 statewide programs, according to College Promise, a national initiative that Jill Biden helped to start in 2015.

A critical step

Biden and Cardona said such efforts are critical to help ensure all Americans have access to higher education, which benefits individuals as well as communities and the nation. The education secretary noted the American Rescue Plan includes $40 billion for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. Public two-year colleges would also receive funding from the president’s infrastructure plan to help prepare workers for jobs that will be needed to repair and build bridges, buildings, water systems, airports, electrical grids, green energy, broadband and more.

Aside from being affordable, community colleges offer students who are juggling work, family life and other obligations flexibility to fit classes into their schedules. That is crucial as students will seek courses to upgrade their skills for new or better jobs as the economy warms up, Jill Biden said.

Prior to a press briefing, Biden, Cardona and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker toured two college laboratories, one of which trains students in a mix of mechanical engineering and electrical knowledge to prepare them for manufacturing jobs, according to the Associated Press. They also watched a demonstration of the college’s robotic welder.

Pitching the Jobs Plan

In North Carolina, the vice president — with a backdrop of advanced manufacturing equipment at GTCC — said most of the jobs that the American Jobs Plan would create would require at least six months of training after high school. So while some postsecondary education is needed to land good-paying jobs, they don’t necessarily require a four-year degree, she said.

“We can’t just talk about higher education without thinking about what kind of training Americans need simply to get hired,” Harris said.

She noted the president’s proposal also would create up to two million new apprenticeships.

“And we’re going to make sure that these opportunities are equally available to women as well as men,” she said.

In addition, the infrastructure plan would invest in affordable, accessible broadband, especially in rural areas, Harris said.

Venessa Keshguerian, a computer-integrated machining student at Guilford Technical Community College, introduces Vice President Kamala Harris. (Photo: GTCC)

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.