By MATTHEW SALTMARSH
Published: July 7, 2009
PARIS — Community colleges could become a tool to help economic recovery in the United States and a model for developing countries debating how to improve their education systems, Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and a longtime teacher, said Tuesday.
Mrs. Biden made the comments as she wrapped up a five-day visit to Europe, her first independent trip abroad since President Barack Obama was inaugurated in January.
The visit started in Germany, where she celebrated Independence Day on July 4 with U.S. soldiers, and ended in Paris, after a speech to a Unesco conference on higher education.
“Community colleges are the way of the future,” she said in an interview by telephone. “Now with people losing their jobs, they’re a great place to go for new training.”
Community colleges are higher-education institutions with, typically, open admission policies. They provide vocational and language training and award diplomas. After graduating from such schools, some students transfer to university for full degrees.
There are almost 1,200 community colleges among the 4,100 public and private higher-education institutions in the United States, serving almost 12 million students.
Mrs. Biden described the schools as one of America’s “best-kept secrets” that could be a model for other countries. They “lead the way in preparing graduates in the fields of green technology, health care, teaching and information technology — some of the fastest-growing fields in America and the rest of the world,” she said.
That message resonated in a report released Tuesday by the World Bank, which said countries that aspire to build “world-class universities” to drive development and compete in global rankings of the best international universities may be “chasing a myth.”
Countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have announced plans to create world-class colleges from scratch. Such institutions take years to build, cost hundreds of millions of dollars and may still fall short of the economic rewards associated with elite schools, the report says.
The Obama administration, Mrs. Biden said, sees higher education as a tool to revitalize the economy and has increased aid to students and unemployed workers, bolstered tuition tax credits and streamlined the financial aid process.
Mrs. Biden, 58, earned a doctorate in education from the University of Delaware in 2007. The “second lady,” as she is referred to, divides her time between a suite in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House, with a staff of eight, and North Virginia Community College, where she teaches English as a second language.
Mrs. Biden now seems ready to carve out a more public role. She said that she would use her “microphone” to promote a handful of causes, including breast cancer awareness, the importance of national service and the support of military families.