Log in

No account? Create an account
08 August 2009 @ 07:33 am
Interview and Essay about Community Colleges  
Dr. Jill has been keeping a fairly low profile lately, but I came across these two goodies! The first is a series of excerpts from a Newsweek Interview.

Jill Biden could have filled her schedule with luncheons and photo ops after her husband became vice president. But as a career English instructor with a doctorate in education, Biden wanted to keep working. She was quickly recruited by Northern Virginia Community College, just outside Washington, and started teaching two days a week. She asked for no special treatment, so the school gave her a small, windowless cubicle just like everyone else. Biden hopes to use her raised profile to advocate for America's community colleges, which she believes are too often underappreciated for the value they offer. She sat down with NEWSWEEK's Daniel Stone. Excerpts:

Take me inside your notion of America's community colleges as a well-kept secret.
People have not really noticed community colleges, but they are where students really become successful. I don't think a lot of students are aware that community colleges exist.

How did you get into teaching at the community-college level?
I was teaching at a high school. Some friends at the community college kept calling me and saying, "You've got to come." A position opened up to teach English, and I got it. I remember how excited I was. It was so different from the high school in that the students wanted to be there. They paid to be there. It's the point when they realize that they need to be there to be successful.

Then why does the junior-college level of education have such an unfortunate reputation?
Well, it's really a different animal. A lot of students who are 18 or 19 go to college partly for the social aspect of it. At the community college, people's goals are a little different. Their needs are more immediate. It's a whole different atmosphere. When students come to the community college, they're focused. They know what they want to do, and they have a certain amount of time to do it.

With your profile, you could now teach anywhere you wanted; ivies would take you. Why stay in community college?
After we were elected, I got many, many job offers from four-year schools. Everyone said, "Teach at a four-year." I said no, I'm a community-college instructor. We're different from other types of teachers. It's a very nurturing environment. I learn about their lives and their problems. Many times I get an intimate look at their struggles and what they're up against.

Do you try to persuade the vice president and administration officials of the need to focus more on higher education?
Joe hears it every day. [Laughs] I come home from school and talk about what we need. He's immersed in it; he can't get away from it. He knows the stories of my students. I think the administration has begun to answer a lot of those things: helping with financial aid, increasing Pell grants, and making the tuition tax credit available to students. He knows there are a lot of ways they can help. He knows what they need.

What do they need?
Well, [the schools] are starting to get a lot of what they need, and that's money. But it's not just money, it's awareness. People need to realize that community colleges really give you a good education. And they do—that's just a simple fact of it.

How can you help students who want to transfer to four-year schools?
One of the things the community college does is to remediate skills ... to get you to the college level so you can be successful and go even further.

Since becoming second lady, have your students become more attentive, not skipping class as much?
[Laughs] Can I tell you that my students this semester were totally cool with it? My ESL students never mentioned it. In one other class I had, a student raised her hand and asked me about the name Biden, wondering if I was related to the vice president, like a cousin or something. And I said, "Yes, let's go with that." They got the hint.


The second is an essay she wrote for Forbes.com about Community Colleges.

Every year around this time, I am struck by the growing number of college rankings available to prospective college students. While these reports can be helpful, many of them fail to include an option that nearly half of all U.S. undergraduate students choose to pursue--and one I know to be the single best path to opportunity for millions of Americans: community college.

I have been an educator for 28 years, and I have taught in the community college system for more than 16 of them. I don't have to look any further than my classroom to see the power of community colleges to change lives. For years I have welcomed students to my classroom from many different educational, economic and cultural backgrounds, and seen how the community college system puts them on the same path of opportunity.

I have seen how community colleges fill important gaps: granting two-year degrees, teaching English to immigrants, providing vocational skills training and certification and teaching basic academic skills to those who may not yet be ready to pursue a four-year degree.

It's also hard to ignore the financial advantages. In today's challenging economy, community colleges are an increasingly affordable way for students from middle-class families to complete the first two years of a baccalaureate degree before moving on to a four-year university.

From a policy perspective, community colleges make sense; from an economic perspective, they make sense. But I am a teacher, and my experience with community colleges is personal. People sometimes ask me why I choose to teach at one and why I have continued to teach since moving to Washington, D.C. I'm always surprised by the question because there was never a doubt in my mind that I would stay in the classroom. The reason is simple: The students are inspiring.

Three out of four community college students--and some of my best students--work while attending school. In my classes, I have men and women who rush to class at the end of a busy work day. I have single parents who come to school in the evening, weary from a long day yet eager to create a brighter future with more options for their children.

Many of my students work hard and dream of attending a four-year university, and the community college is a great gateway. They are determined to be the first in their family to attend college. I see recently unemployed workers who are looking for new skills in growing fields like health care, teaching, information technology and green technology--some of the fastest-growing fields in America and the rest of the world.

In the United States there are almost 1,200 community colleges among our 4,100 public and private institutions of higher education. All together, community colleges serve 11.5 million students.

They are flexible, offering specialized training programs to address workforce shortages and often partnering with local businesses to meet the emerging needs of their regions. Some states have programs that allow for admission to four-year schools after two successful years at a community college or at the very least provide for the transfer of credits. Given the high cost of most four-year institutions and the relatively low cost of community colleges, these types of programs can make a big difference for financially strapped families.

It's easy to see why community colleges have seen the fastest growth among U.S. higher education institutions over the last three decades. President Barack Obama recently announced an investment called the American Graduation Initiative that will allow community colleges to meet the needs of rapidly growing enrollment by funding programs to increase graduation rates, make courses more relevant to business needs and strengthen ties to high schools and other colleges and universities.

All Americans deserve an opportunity to receive the best education possible--not just through 12th grade but all the way through college, too. By supporting community colleges and by encouraging them to improve their graduation rates, the Obama-Biden administration is helping millions of Americans gain skills and confidence to lift the nation out of hard times. I can't think of a better investment.

I have often said that community colleges are one of America's best-kept secrets, which is why you won't find them on many of this year's "best college" rankings. But they are essential to our nation's higher education mission and uniquely able to address the needs of our communities. Just as important, they often provide an education to students who would not otherwise enroll in a four-year college or university.

So to anyone considering applying to college, I encourage you to take a look at a community college near you. You might be surprised at the opportunities awaiting you there.

Rebecca--mais oui!: Biden--Inaugurationrawbery79 on August 8th, 2009 02:10 pm (UTC)
That's so awesome.