ARNOLD – Jill Biden voiced her support for community colleges as powerful — if sometimes less known — educators during a visit to Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold Wednesday.
Biden, a full-time English professor at Northern Virginia Community College, also announced the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges. The Oct. 5 summit will bring educators and others together in an effort to find ways to improve the American workforce through education.
“The beauty of the community college is they really put students first,” said Biden, who has visited numerous community college campuses around the country.
Biden emphasized the important role community colleges play at enabling students to complete their education, calling the schools “one of America’s best-kept secrets.”
Inspired by President Obama’s American Graduation Initiative, Anne Arundel Community College implemented its Student Success 2020 initiative in July. The plan aims to “double the number of degrees, certificates, and workforce credentials awarded by 2020.”
Linda Schulte, head of public relations at the college, said the White House sought out the school for the visit to learn more about Student Success 2020.
“But most of all they wanted to hear the students’ stories,” said Schulte. “Dr. Biden in particular wanted to talk to as many community college students and faculty as she could (before the White House summit).”
Biden attended a Baking and Pastry Arts class, joining students in the kitchen to make croissants.
The class is part of the Hotel, Culinary Arts and Tourism Institute at the college, which incorporates accelerated training programs to help students get employed quickly.
“They get the job and rise faster because they’re more engaged and more professional,” said Chef Virginia Olson to Biden, before showing her how to cut the croissant dough.
Biden also joined selected students and faculty to discuss their experiences. Recommended by their respective departments, the 12 students were each given the chance to introduce themselves to the Second Lady.
Omar Magana, 32, told Biden he would be turning in his last assignment that night to complete his GED. Magana moved to the United States from Mexico at 14 and had been unable to continue his high school education until now.
Catherine Cornish, 40, a veteran of the U.S. Army, said she would use community college as a springboard to a four-year college.
“It’s a wonderful incentive,” said Cornish of Biden’s visit. “I think it’s great for community colleges to come together.”
Students and faculty also offered suggestions to improve the college, including ideas to lower tuition to better enable foreign students to attend, and amplify efforts to reach out to high school students.
Listening to the students’ stories and feedback, Biden acknowledged the balance many of them have to achieve as they work jobs and raise families in addition to focusing on their education.
“What you’re doing is so hard,” she said, “And you’re persevering.”