From Community College To The White House (And Back Again!)
From the White House to an Ivy League campus, I’ve been fortunate to spend time in some remarkable places—but none more so than a community college classroom. As a proud community college graduate, I know firsthand the difference these campuses make in people’s lives. That’s why I’m honored to work on Dr. Jill Biden’s College Promise Campaign, helping communities and states across the country create free community college programs. These initiatives are improving the lives of countless Americans by opening doors to the same quality education I received years ago.
I grew up attending public school in Ventura County, California. My classmates came from every walk of life, representing military families, immigrant communities, and working-class households. When my high school graduation rolled around, some of the brightest and most capable people I knew did not make plans to further their education. They were intimidated by the cost of college and overwhelmed by the need to support their families. Education and career goals were placed on hold indefinitely. Dreams slipped away.
I believe strongly that my community missed an opportunity to invest in these young people who might have become brilliant doctors, business leaders, public servants, and much more. I support free community college because anyone willing to work hard should be able to access the education and job training needed to reach their full potential. We can improve lives and lift up entire communities by preparing our people for meaningful careers that can’t be outsourced or replaced by technology.
Following high school, I enrolled at Ventura and later Cuesta community colleges with the financial support of my parents. These campuses provided me with the best learning experience I’ve ever received. My classes were diverse, filled with veterans and single parents, first-generation and middle-aged students. That meant more meaningful discussions with my classmates who shared perspectives from a wide range of life experiences. I loved it. What’s more, my professors were the best educators I’ve had on any campus. They cared deeply about my goals, sharing their time and knowledge to help me advance. Their support was the single best gift any school has given me.
After attending community college, I was fortunate to graduate from a strong public university and later worked as a campaign staffer for Barack Obama’s first presidential bid. I went on to serve as an aide in President Obama’s White House and eventually earned a graduate degree at Brown University. Through all of these incredible opportunities, I’ve increasingly come to realize that community college was the most formative experience in my life. There is no place more distinctly American than a community college, where people from all backgrounds seize the opportunity to build brighter futures for themselves and their families.
Today, I’m proud to work for the College Promise Campaign, where we support over 200 programs that deliver free community college and encourage their expansion. Across the nation, community leaders are reaching across the aisle to increase access to higher education through College Promise programs. These programs are not a handout, but rather an investment in our future. They strengthen local economies by increasing business and revenue. And by preparing students for today’s workforce, College Promise programs are helping families build better quality lives.
I’m glad to say that both of the community colleges I attended are helping lead this effort. For over a decade, the Ventura College Promise has served more than 12,000 students. This program provides a particular boost to Latino students, who continue their education at twice the rate of their non-Promise peers. Further north, Cuesta Promise is revitalizing rural San Luis Obispo County by covering first year tuition costs for high school graduates—that’s a savings of $1,400! The program has seen steady growth, helping over 3,000 students advance their education.
These initiatives—and others like them—recognize the potential in young people who cannot afford college but are willing to work hard. And believe me, no one works harder than community college students. They juggle jobs, daycare, classes, and much more. Free community college initiatives are built on a belief in these driven and remarkable students.
Those of us who’ve had the good fortune to attend a community college know what a valuable experience it can be. These days, when the news is so often uninspiring, I find hope in the cities and towns providing access to a quality education like the one I received years ago. Through their efforts, young people with great potential—like the ones I grew up with in Ventura County—will be empowered to improve our communities.
Start a Promise project in your own backyard or get connected with one by joining the movement at CollegePromise.org/join.