U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' Prepared Remarks at the Community College National Legislative Summit

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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' Prepared Remarks at the Community College National Legislative Summit

February 16, 2017

Below are the prepared remarks delivered today, Feb. 16, by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at the 2017 Community College National Legislative Summit, hosted by the Association of Community College Trustees and the American Association of Community Colleges.

Good morning! Thank you, Dr. Phelan for the kind introduction and for your leadership at AACC [American Association of Community Colleges]. I have a special appreciation for the work that you, my friend Mary Kay Thayer, and all the representatives from community colleges in the Great Lakes State do each day.

My home state is rich in public institutions—more than 30 of them—that primarily award two-year degrees, certificates and other credentials. I'm proud of their record in helping Michiganders to achieve their dreams.

I'm also very pleased to note that over the years, I've hired many talented individuals who were graduates of GRCC—Grand Rapids Community College.

Supporting students in pursuit of reaching their boundless potential is the mission of every community college leader in this room.

I am grateful for the invitation from both your organizations to join you this morning. And, I am humbled and inspired by this opportunity to work together.

All of you—presidents, chancellors and trustees, as well as faculty, staff and students who are also attending this summit—have my deepest respect. I'll do my best to earn yours. I've been on the job as Secretary of Education just over a week. While the title and office are new, the work is not all new.

My passion and actions have been to help improve educational opportunities for students and parents. And while some have characterized the flurry of attention around my confirmation in negative terms, I viewed it as expressions of passion... passionate parents and advocates who care deeply about their kids and about education.

I applaud it, and I know this same passion drives all of you.

Community colleges are a uniquely American national asset. You are nimble, inclusive and entrepreneurial. You provide important and valued pathways for students to prepare for success in this competitive economy. You equip students for high-demand fields and skilled jobs that help grow local economies and maintain communities.

And, you're absolutely essential engines of workforce and economic development—locally and regionally. You help identify and close the skills gap between employers and job-seekers, so U.S. businesses and industries can thrive and expand.

Thanks to you, millions of students have genuine opportunities for a solid education. You offer flexibility and extra support to learners who are balancing responsibilities at home, school, and work—including many who face the very highest obstacles to success.

Instead of insisting that students adjust to your schedules and traditions, you adjust to their needs—from employees who seek new skills and credentials to further their careers, to students who need some extra help preparing to do college-level work. With options like night and weekend classes, online courses, child care, academic and career counseling, and part- and full-time programs, community colleges are thoroughly student-centered.

And increasingly, you're helping high school students earn college credit and degrees through approaches that are accessible, faster and more affordable than ever. Early college programs are a great example of a unique role played by community colleges.

This visionary model allows students, starting as early as ninth grade, to take high school and college courses, and to graduate in five years with a no-cost associate's degree. Some, like Henry Ford Early College in Dearborn, Michigan, are among the state's top-performing high schools.

Not only are these students ready for well-paid jobs in fields like health care and advanced manufacturing, but they also can seamlessly continue their education by transferring to a four-year bachelor's degree program.

Your institutions, working hand in glove with your business partners, will play an important role in continuing to get Americans back to work. The President was elected to help bring back jobs and economic opportunity, in every region of this country. He has outlined a bold plan to foster the creation of 25 million new American jobs in the next decade and achieve 4 percent annual economic growth.

The President's 100-day action plan is his contract with the American voter. This plan notes the importance of expanding vocational and technical education—the types of career and technical education that community colleges excel at providing—and making two- and four-year college degrees more affordable. He has called multiple paths for postsecondary education "an absolute priority" for his Administration, and I share that vision.

Today is the beginning of what I'm confident will be years of productive collaboration and a healthy exchange of ideas among our nation's colleges and universities, and the Department of Education.

I know that there are many items on your legislative agenda, from reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and the Perkins Act, to ways community colleges can help transform the nation's infrastructure, to allowing Pell Grants to have flexibility in supporting students working to graduate more quickly. And in the days ahead, I'll look forward to hearing your thoughts and working with you as President Trump's vision continues taking shape.

I also know that there are local and state-based initiatives this Administration can learn about and highlight, including the early college programs I've mentioned.

As you know, the Department provides many resources for community colleges through our Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, including information about grant opportunities, veterans' resources, promising practices, and more. You can find these resources on our website, ed.gov, and we'll be adding information as new initiatives develop.

Thank you once again for the warm welcome. I and our team at the Department look forward to working with and to sharing thoughts on how we can implement the President's goals and accomplish a shared vision for education.

It is a great honor to stand with you in this work. I am encouraged and excited by what we can achieve together for America's students and families, and for this nation that we love.