Dr. Jill Biden delivered the keynote address at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 2009 World Conference on Higher Education on Sunday. She traveled to Paris for the conference after spending the Fourth of July with troops in Germany.
Her remarks highlighted the administration’s commitment to higher education, and especially focused on the critical role of community colleges in fulfilling the President’s goals for education. From her prepared remarks:
President Obama sees higher education as critical to the administration’s plans to revitalize the American economy, and he has moved quickly to support students and their families. In just his first few months in office, the President has increased financial aid available to students and unemployed workers, increased tuition tax credits, and streamlined the financial aid process.
The President wants the United States to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the year 2020 -- a global competition that if we all enter, we will all win.
And he wants every young adult to have at least one year of college or training after high school -- a goal that community colleges will play a vital role in reaching.
I am grateful for the opportunity to spread the word about the valuable contribution community colleges make in the United States. But I am not a politician. I am not a researcher or an education policy expert.
I am a teacher. My experience with community colleges is personal. People sometimes ask why I choose to teach at a community college. The answer is simple: It’s the students.
Dr. Biden has extensive experience working with community colleges. She is currently an adjunct professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College, and has been an educator for 28 years. She explained that we all reap the benefits when our students are well educated, which is why it is important that we focus on education at all levels. However, community colleges are a particularly significant part of America’s university system because they are uniquely able to address the needs of their communities, she explained. Calling them one of America’s "best-kept secrets," Dr. Biden explained that community colleges serve many non-traditional or part-time students that may otherwise have a hard time receiving a higher education. They are flexible and affordable, which is especially important in these tough economic times. Community colleges also have open admissions policies, which allow everyone who wants to learn access to an education, and they often teach English to immigrants looking to join the workforce.
Dr. Biden concluded her remarks by citing a quote by Horace Mann, that education is "the great equalizer of the conditions of men."