Jill Biden pushes for two years of free community college at Royal Oak stop

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Royal Oak — Community colleges don't judge people, they welcome everyone and meet students where they are, first lady Jill Biden said Friday during an appearance at Oakland Community College.

That's why two years of free community college — part of her husband President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda — can transform the lives of everyday people, she said.

"Community colleges are founded on the idea that no matter where we are, no matter where we come from or what struggles we've faced, all of us have the potential to grow and learn," Biden said to a crowd gathered inside OCC's Royal Oak campus, "to pursue fulfilling careers, to give back to our communities if only we are given the opportunity."

Biden arrived in Royal Oak around 12:40 p.m. with her motorcade and U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township. She met also with Oakland Community College Chancellor Peter Provenzano, Jr.

People wait in line to go through security prior to the visit of first lady  Jill Biden at Oakland Community College in Royal Oak, Friday afternoon, September 24, 2021.

Biden also met with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who arrived at OCC on a giant purple bus as part of a five-state tour focused on highlighting students' return to in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and to close out the U.S. Department of Education’s “Return to School Road Trip."

The Royal Oak High School drumline welcomed the group outside before Biden and others headed inside around 1 p.m.

Biden, a professor of writing at Northern Virginia Community College, started her talk by saying: "We did our best with virtual learning. There are some things you cannot replicate through a screen. That is why I am so happy to be back in class in person. Aren't you?"

Biden spoke for about six minutes and was cheered by the crowd of mostly OCC educators and community members.

Cardona, a former public school teacher, has spent the last two days in Michigan visiting K-12 classrooms and speaking to the community about literacy and early childhood education as part of his tour.

The education secretary praised Biden for her work of welcoming back students in her own classroom and said on his tour he has walked through classrooms where students are engaged with one another and teachers, gaining skills.

"I've seen students of all ages and backgrounds ... back at school and on campus. Feeling the joy of what being back together really means academically, socially, emotionally," Cardona said,

"Community colleges are the backbone of this country's growth and the future economic prosperity of our country," Cardona said.

He urged passage of the Biden agenda to make community college accessible for all.

"It's not just about two years of community college. It's about being honest about our educational inequities and doing what is right to truly level the education field," Cardona said. "We know not all schools are resourced equally."

First lady Jill Biden shakes hands with attendees after speaking at Oakland Community College in Royal Oak, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021.

Debra Boucher, a bus driver for the Royal Oak marching band, said she loves the idea of free community college. Boucher walked up and met Biden at the end of the event.

"I like the whole idea of people being able to afford to go to college," Boucher said.

Preya Samsundar, spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, issued a Friday statement in response to Biden's visit.

"After siding with the teachers union to keep schools closed and using kids to distract Americans from the Biden administration’s ongoing crises, Michiganders won’t give Jill Biden and Miguel Cardona a hall pass for being a month too late to welcome their children back to school," the statement said.

jchambers@detroitnews.com