Thursday, August 28, 2008

I'm All Hot About: Jill Biden

I'm tired of hearing Jill Biden called a 'teacher.' Really--no knocks to teachers, but Jill Biden isn't teaching children. Ms. Biden is a professor of English at Delaware Technical and Community College. That's right-- she's one of the "honored but invisible" faculty serving on the front lines of higher education.

Yes, there are "front lines" of higher ed-- as anyone watching the battles between colleges and their states knows, the community college is the dear stepchild of the system. As I describe in a paper I'm working on for the Brookings Institution, every year nearly one million new students enroll in the 1,200 public two-year colleges nationwide. In many states those schools are bursting at the seams, dramatically underfunded and insufficiently respected. This is especially true at the urban community colleges, like DTCC.

When community colleges were founded, they were nearly uniformly small and required relatively little funding. The majority of their campuses were built more than thirty years ago and have not been updated since. Further, while growth in the number of community colleges began to slow in the mid-1970s, enrollment continued to surge. The ratio of enrollment to the number of community colleges grew much more rapidly at urban colleges than at non-urban schools during the period of 1992 to 2002. Given this trend, it is not surprising that many urban community colleges are crowded both day and night, with day classes for younger students and evenings classes for working adults. Many colleges in urban areas were never built to accommodate the sizeable populations they now educate, and the effects of the overcrowding are substantial. Their classrooms lack technology, their science laboratories do not meet current educational standards, most classes are quite large, and with faculty who are often overwhelmed and demoralized.

In the midst of all of this, stands Jill Biden, wife of the future vice-president. There's no doubt that, as she hopes, she is making a difference by working at a community college. One of my most fervent hopes is that she continues her commitment to those important institutions when she moves to Washington and crafts her new agenda. It's about time for a significant revitalization of the American community college, and she's the perfect person to lead the way.

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