Vice President Biden Visits West College

By Lynne Bronstein

Observer Reporter

January 23 was a special day at West Los Angeles College as Vice

President Joe Biden visited the campus, praised the dental hygiene department, and talked with college administrators about the President's proposal to improve education in the U.S. by making community colleges financially accessible to more people.

WLAC is one of 15 community colleges recently selected by state officials to offer a baccalaureate degree.

A press contingent of almost 50 reporters and photographers, ranging from TV news reporters to the10-year-old editor of the Linwood E. Howe Elementary newspaper, stood in the back of a classroom in the Math Science building, waiting for the Vice President, who took some time to tour the dental hygiene classes before entering the press room.

Biden was then seated at a table with members of the WLAC college board, Congresswoman Karen Bass, Culver City Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells, and WLAC President Nabil Abu-Ghazaleh, who made opening remarks.

Biden quoted his wife (who teaches at the college level) as saying "The best kept secret in America is community colleges." To Biden, the community college is a key to "bring[ing] back the middle class."

With community colleges offering four-year degrees, the cost of tuition would be approximately $10,000, half the cost of a California State college.

If Obama's proposal to give students free tuition at community colleges goes through, the federal government will pay 75 per cent of the costs of the two-year schools, with states covering the rest.

"For over 100 years we had the best education in the world," Biden noted. "But the rest of the world is catching up."

The cost of higher education has simply gone beyond what many Americans can afford, as they struggle to pay mortgages and raise families on salaries that won't cover all their needs.

Biden observed that there are jobs that need to be filled, especially in the I.T. sector, which require specific training. However, many of the people who need jobs and whose lives would be improved by the salaries offered for those jobs (in the $50,000-$75,000 range) cannot afford the tuition, as well as the time needed in which to take courses while also working full time and raising children (as in the case of single mothers).

The Vice President also spoke of the debt factor in acquiring higher education. The average debt for a former student is now $28,000 for graduates nationwide.

Even his own family has been hit by education debt, Biden admitted.

On a positive note, Biden praised WLAC's dental hygiene department. "What an incredible display of men and women," he commented in regard to the dental hygiene students. "They all have four-year degrees and several of them have attended other colleges before entering this program."

Although the members of the press had a chance to talk afterward with WLAC administrators, the Vice President's appearance was limited to his talk. In what was a brief visit to the Los Angeles area, Biden also had a stop to make downtown, visiting the HomeGirl Café.

WLAC students were aware of the Vice President's visit, inasmuch as it caused some of their classes to be moved to other locations.

One student, waiting at a bus stop, said he would have liked to be able to attend the meeting with the Vice President. "I'd like to ask him to help me," he said.

Perhaps, Obama and Biden's community college plan will offer him and others like him some help.


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