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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 09/23/2009

Dr. Jill Biden Guest Blogs on Community Colleges

By Valerie Strauss

Dr. Jill Biden, a longtime educator and professor at Northern Virginia Community College, and wife of Vice President Biden, is today's guest blogger:

By Jill Biden
I wanted to share some thoughts about a very exciting day I had Monday. In the morning I traveled with President Obama to Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, New York.

As I told the students and teachers I met there, I felt right at home. I’ve been an English teacher for almost 30 years, and I’ve spent much of my career in the community college system. In fact, yesterday I was right back in my own college classroom teaching English.

People often ask me why I choose to teach at a community college. Well—the answer is simple: It’s my students.

Every day in my classroom I am inspired by their commitment, their struggles, and their belief in education as the best hope for a brighter future for themselves and their families. Every day in my classroom I also see the power of education to break down barriers and to open students’ eyes to the possibilities around them.

I saw that power again as President Obama and I toured several high-tech classrooms and spoke with students who are being trained in cutting-edge and emerging technologies to meet the workforce needs of their region. There is no doubt that the education gained on campuses just like Hudson Valley will provide the knowledge that will power the American and global economies of the 21st century.

I have always said community colleges are one of America’s best kept secrets – and I am so pleased that now we have a president who is highlighting their contribution, making a historic commitment to higher education, and bringing more and more students to colleges like Hudson Valley so they, too, can gain the skills and the confidence they need to succeed in a new era.

Last week the House of Representatives passed student loan legislation that included the American Graduation Initiative, a landmark investment in community colleges. This administration shares a sentiment I have long held – that these institutions are critical to educating and training a skilled workforce of the future.

I was truly proud to introduce our President yesterday and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this very exciting time for community colleges.

By Valerie Strauss  | September 23, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Community Colleges  | Tags:  community colleges, jill biden, president obama  
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Given the quality of education that is today provided at Community Colleges such as Hudson Valley and NOVA, I find myself wondering why does it cost us so much more for those additional two years of education which are required as entrance requirements to a Master's or PhD program. What is the real reason behind the persistence of this apparent advancement void throughout the World and what accredited alternatives are there to a Junior and Senior level course at an Undergraduate Level ? Furthermore, what do our Community Colleges today see as their role in support of providing our youth with advanced Undergraduate classes that are a recognized pre-requisite to a Master's or PhD program in the future ? Will the change that is required to reduce the costs of an Undergraduate Degree, Worldwide, be driven by the Community Colleges themselves, or will the change that is required first need to be recognized and supported by the Universities and Colleges who offer the advanced degree programs ? I'd like to know.

Posted by: jralger | September 23, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Thank you so much to Dr. Biden. The "Second Lady" rarely gets much press in any administration, but I really appreciate your advocacy for community colleges, which obviously stems from a decades-long career involvement.

I hope you continue to promote this smart, good, flexible way to provide training and education (both) to diverse populations of all ages, backgrounds, and interests.

Community colleges aren't just for degree seekers or vocational improvement. I've also seen them used as a way for high-schoolers to try out their first college courses in the summer, housewives to pursue their own interests and begin to think about returning to the work force, and various people who may be socially isolated for different reasons (age, language, divorce, etc.) to find a way to reconnect through learning and shared interests. They are an all-around resource for many parts of the community and a good investment. In other words, they really are part of our "community" in the best sense of the term.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | September 23, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Dr. Biden:

One of the benefits of having you here in Washington (and having the Vice President in his new role) is the spotlight you are shining on this facet of our educational system. I know you would probably just like to teach, where your impact is directly on your students, but I also appreciate your willingness to serve as a spokesman for the community college cause. Keep up the great work.

Posted by: chrismadison1 | September 23, 2009 2:47 PM | Report abuse

A lot nicer than working as a Big Oil hack for a NeoCon think tank.

Posted by: AxelDC | September 23, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

There's only one difference between the community colleges and the top notch, 4 year, research universities:

The lack of highly paid, specialized researchers.

At both places, especially in today's world where technologies allow people to access all kinds of material with a few clicks of the mouse, students have access to practically the EXACT SAME materials.

Besides, MIT, Berkeley, and other 4 year universities have made many of their popular, lower division courses readily available, too, so there's no reason students can't learn, or learn as well or as much, if they attend a good local community college.

The fact of the matter is, if someone truly wants to learn, they can pretty much learn from anywhere, wherever they are... Whether it is Shakespeare, Multi-Variable Calculus, World History, Russian, Chinese, Plate Tectonics, Botany, Molecular Biology, World Geography, Statistics... you name it... they are all available, practically everywhere.

Students just can't expect teachers --- whether at the local community college or at a 4 year university --- to teach them every single thing; that's not learning anyway. If they merely use teachers and others as resources, as guide posts, as inpirations, then they can and will learn anywhere.

Anyway, with respect to professors at top research schools: most of those highly paid professors at big universities hardly make enough time to talk to individual students anyway, so community college professors more than make up for their less visibility.

It's good to know there were 5 or 6 Nobel Prize winning professors at my alma mater, the University of California, San Diego, for example... but I never had any course with any of them, so they were really not that significant or influential where my specific learning and over-all education were concerned...

But I had so much more fun, and so much more interaction, with students and professors at the local community where I took some courses during the first summer of my college years...

Her Lao

Posted by: HerLao | September 23, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Biden,

The coincidence of your using Hudson Valley Community College as the backdrop to illustrate the importance of community colleges brought a smile to my face. When I first learned of your being a professor at, and advocate for, community colleges it was HVCC that immediately came to my mind.

I'm a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the much more well known (well, in the engineering community anyway) place of higher learning in Troy. Apart from being the oldest engineering college in the country (regardless of what the soldiers at West Point think) it is also a very expensive to attend, and difficult to gain admission to, school. When I attended it was fairly common for students who could not afford four years at RPI, or who could not gain entry directly from high school, to attend HVCC for one or two years - a transfer that was assured for a B average student and above because the Institute understood that a student who attended HVCC and excelled would be able to complete their education successfully at RPI.

I was able to benefit from four years at RPI, but I had many friends who went the alternative route and they can attest to just how vital a role - even for those who go on to complete their studies at a top notch university - the community colleges play. In my day it was because President Reagan gutted many of the aid programs that students in need relied upon that caused the upsurge in community college attendance. Today it is the long term effects of failed economic policies and the crisis of the real estate and financial market meltdown. Tomorrow it will be something else. Regardless of the cause, these schools provide a critically important leg up to millions who are doing exactly what we in our capitalistic society have asked. They are working harder than anyone to reach their goals. While some may attack the things you and the president promote as socialist, they are nothing less than simply what is required to restore the promise of our democracy.

Thank you, and thank the vice president for your service to our country. You are both inspirations to many and heroes to many more.

Posted by: JoelB8 | September 24, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

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