Obama: Community colleges central to economic recovery

“You don’t see China slashing education by 20 percent right now,” he said. “You don’t see India slashing education right now. … There is a better way for us to do this.”

The national attention garnered by the White House summit, Biden said, was a victory for two-year colleges that aren’t often recognized by federal officials.

“I often say that community colleges are America’s best-kept secret,” she said. “With the president of the United States shining a light on us, I think that secret is out.”

A poll conducted last month by market research company Abt SRBI Inc. showed overall support for community colleges. Nearly 70 percent of respondents said the quality of education at community colleges is excellent or good.

When asked whether colleges prepare students for the work force, 62 percent said yes for community colleges and 68 percent said yes for four-year schools. Seventy-one percent said it’s sometimes better for students to pursue a diploma or certificate from a two-year school than aim to enter a four-year college.

Melinda Gates spoke to educators and community college officials during the summit’s opening session, highlighting two-year school’s use of online classes to make education accessible for non-traditional students.

Hybrid courses, in which students do some class work online and some in the classroom, allow students to “make progress toward their credential while they’re holding down a job,” she said.

Community colleges “are hidden gems of our society,” Gates said, adding that national conversations about improvements to higher education too often focus on elite four-year universities. “And in this country, hard work is supposed to pay off.”

Biden called community colleges “uniquely American,” because “anyone who walks through the door is one step closer to the American dream.”

Obama joked that Biden was not “playing hooky” from her job as English professor at Northern Virginia Community College and was only able to attend the White House summit after asking for a day off. Biden, he said, could be seen grading papers between TV interviews in the morning.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.