Bidens visit Virginia college to promote free community college

President Joe Biden pitches his American Families Plan during a visit to Tidewater Community College on Monday. (Screenshot from live stream of event)

President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden visited a Virginia community college on Monday to promote two years of free community college and other parts of his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan. Meanwhile, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona did the same at a Maryland community college.

In his visit to Tidewater Community College (TCC), the president noted the importance of education, including postsecondary education, for the U.S. to stay economically competitive.

“Twelve years is no longer enough to compete with the world of the 21st century and lead the 21st century,” Biden said.

He highlighted the flexibility of community colleges, which offer associate degrees and job training that can lead to good-paying jobs and serve as a ramp to a four-year college.

“For some, it’s two years of community college to earn enough credits to transfer to a four-year university, which is available in almost every single state. To become a teacher, an entrepreneur or anything else,” Biden said. “For some, it’s getting extra training through a certificate program to get a good-paying job and a business in town.”

Biden noted that he and the first lady had just finished touring TCC’s HVAC workshop where they met students.

“With the skills they’re learning here — and some of the students will go on to be plumbers, members of the Pipefitters’ Local 110, electricians — look, it means higher union wages with guaranteed healthcare and pensions,” he said.

Biden also noted his wants to increase the Pell Grant maximum, which would help community college students who often struggle with food and housing insecurities, transportation, childcare and other costs beyond tuition and fees.

“It’ll make a gigantic difference,” he said.

Biden explained he would increase taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans to cover the cost of free community college and other parts of his plan.

“Do we want to give the wealthiest people in America another tax cut, or do you want to give every high school graduate the ability to earn a community college degree on their way to good-paying jobs or on their way to four years of school and industries of the future: healthcare, IT, cybersecurity, you name it,” he asked.

A student’s perspective

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden opened the press briefing following the tour by thanking TCC — which includes a Naval base in its service area — for supporting veterans and other military-connected students. Her speech mirrored the one she delivered last month at Sauk Valley Community College (Illinois), focusing on community colleges’ affordability and flexibility. She also noted how two-year students help local communities.

“Community college graduates provide more security for their families,” Jill Biden said. “They invest in their local schools and businesses, and they bring needed skills to our workforce, helping us to meet the challenges of the 21st century. That’s why we need two years of free community college.”

TCC student Jaiden Williams, who is part of the college’s STEM Promise Program and took TCC classes when she was still in high school, highlighted the college’s Women’s Center, which she said is “very integral in my story of my success.” The center provided her a full scholarship.

“But the thing that is so special about TCC is the specialized support that we receive and also the smaller class sizes, which I think is a plus,” she said. “I think that TCC’s mission, “From here, go anywhere,” is essential just everywhere in our daily lives. TCC has ingrained this in us, and I believe that from here I can go anywhere.”

In Maryland

Also on Monday, the U.S. education secretary visited the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC), touring the college’s auto lab and its on-site childcare center. Cardona also heard about the college’s approach to curb enrollment declines.

CCBC students had an opportunity to tell the secretary about their hardships. One 37-year-old student explained how she balanced her time studying automotive technology at CCBC while also working for Amazon to support her three children, according to a Baltimore Sun article.

In a Tweet, Cardona said the American Families Plan is a “once-in-a-generation investment in education” that will open “the door for all students to pursue a better future.”

About the Author

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