First Lady Jill Biden, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona Kick Off 2022 Community College National Legislative Summit
Both leaders pledge to continue the fight for community colleges.
First Lady Jill Biden kicked off the 2022 Community College National Legislative Summit Monday morning by emphatically stating that the Biden Administration will continue its ambitious efforts to support community colleges despite legislative setbacks.
“We are not giving up,” Dr. Biden said. The president, she added, “is keeping his promise to rebuild our middle class, and he knows community colleges do just that.”
Returning to the NLS for the second time in as many years, Dr. Biden recalled saying in 2021 “that Joe was going to fight for community colleges.” She noted that the American Rescue Plan and the $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed into law last year provided billions in support to community colleges and created new opportunities for workforce training. But with the administration’s Build Back Better package stalled—and free community college eliminated from the proposal in the fall—Biden also spoke to her own experiences teaching at Northern Virginia Community College, stressing the disappointment she feels on behalf of her students, as well as the need to continue advocating for students.
“These aren’t just bills or budgets to me, or to you,” Biden said in remarks picked up by national media, including the Associated Press, New York Times, CNN and others. “We know what they mean for real people, for our students.”
In stressing the importance of advocacy, Biden urged NLS attendees to help break the mindset of Washington politics she compared with a game of football. “No one can tell that story better than you,” Biden said. “No one can help us push past that playbook and see the human heart that drives our work better than you.”
Hours later, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona pledged continued support for tuition-free community college — “I’m going to continue to fight for that,” he said. Cardona urged community college leaders to make the most of their time advocating with legislators.
“Everyone in DC should know a personal story about how the American Rescue Plan helped community college students, because you’re going to tell them,” Cardona said. “If we don’t lift up the stories about the students, the families, the economy we’re benefitting, all we’re going to hear is the negative. I need you to drown it out.”
Where federal officials once called the sector the nation’s “best-kept secret,” Cardona shifted the language. “Community colleges are one of the nation’s best treasures, and people are recognizing that," he said. "Now is the time we amplify that message.”
He also emphasized the access to higher education prioritized by community colleges as compared with some selective four-year universities that "prioritize chasing each others' rankings and and moving affluent students from elite high schools," reported Politico's Bianca Quilantan.
Also Monday, community college leaders were briefed on the sector’s legislative priorities, and Ricardo D. Torres, CEO of the National Student Clearinghouse, outlined how changing enrollment trends during the pandemic speak to broader workforce changes. He urged community college leaders to partner with the emerging ecosystem of short-term credential providers and join state efforts to define P-20 workforce pathways.
“The community college sector is…a force for learner and worker enablement,” Torres said. “But you have to be proactive.”
More than 700 community college leaders are attending the first Community College National Legislative Summit to meet in Washington, D.C., since 2020 this Feb. 6-9.
Video and a transcript of Dr. Biden's remarks are linked at www.acct.org.