A beginning and an end
By Lauren Ford, Biden Foundation Fellow for Higher Education
In December 2017, I was forwarded a job description through an acquaintance who thought that it might be the perfect opportunity for me. The position was to be a fellow at the Biden Foundation in Washington, D.C. I lived in California, was just establishing myself as a professional in the world of California Community Colleges, and was finishing my first semester of my educational leadership doctoral program at San Francisco State University. The thought of moving across the country at that stage was terrifying. I spoke with my friends, mom, mentor — even my college president — before I decided to take the leap and just apply. I interviewed in January, received an offer in February, and, needless to say, my life hasn’t been the same since!
I am a proud member of the inaugural class of Biden Foundation Fellows. I was the only remote fellow as I continued to live and work in California, visiting the D.C. office once a quarter. Through weekly check-in calls, I received assignments and updates from the higher education team. My assignments included writing policy memos, creating event plans, conducting research on higher education trends, drafting social media content, and writing literature reviews. I wrote… a lot. And, it was so rewarding to hear Dr. Biden speak and hear her mention a statistic I provided. I would think to myself, “Wow, I wrote that, emailed it to the team, and now Dr. Biden is saying it!” For someone outside of the world at politics, that’s a pretty cool feeling.
One of the most exciting projects that I worked on was the launch of a joint initiative supported by Achieving the Dream (ATD) and the Biden Foundation: Community College Women Succeed (#CCWomenSucceed). CC Women Succeed is an initiative that aims to help adult women students —including single parents — succeed in community college.
Last month, I attended Achieving the Dream’s annual DREAM Conference in Long Beach, California, where Dr. Biden announced the initiative before a room of more than 2,500 higher education leaders. After the announcement, the higher education policy team joined members of the ATD team at Los Angeles Harbor College for a listening session of women students so that we could hear about their successes, barriers, and recommendations for policymakers. The 11 women in the room were absolutely phenomenal! All were mothers, one was a grandmother, some were graduating at the end of this term, and one was a proud alumna.
The students shared their personal stories, fears, and motivations to seek out higher education. They all commended the way in which their college felt like home. The faculty and staff were welcoming and supportive. The students looked out for each other and shared resources and insights. We heard statements such as, “(the staff) really wants to help me. I felt a wall coming down… a sense of relief,” and “I always knew I was meant to be more than a regular employee.” The most moving statement I heard a student say was, “I never knew how strong I really was until I got here and was able to see my potential.”
We also heard from a group of college administrators who had programs or centers to support adult learners. They shared their best practices, recruitment insights, institutional and policy pain points, and successes. The representative from Amarillo College reminded us that for many community colleges, “the non-traditional student IS our student.” Which is very true. Many times when talking about community college students, the conversation is focused on students that have just graduated from high school. However, in 2017 the American Association for Community Colleges reported that 49 percent of community college students are over the age of 21. With the national focus on workforce development and free community college, now is the perfect time to focus on supporting the adult learner.
Unfortunately for me, my fellowship has come to end, at the launch of a bold new initiative I know will help community college women succeed. I appreciate all that I have learned and the opportunity to contribute to a nationwide discussion on community college reform. I really appreciate the Biden Foundation team for allowing me to work remotely and making me feel welcomed each time that I visited the office. I also thank the 2018 Fellows for joining me on this journey and working hard to advance a national conversation around ending violence against women, ensuring LGBTQ equality, strengthening the middle class, and supporting military families. I want to end by thanking the Bidens for creating such an amazing organization that is doing important work that will impact the lives of people throughout the country.
This post is part of our “The Heart of the Issue” series, blogs authored by the Biden Fellows. Each Fellow has a close connection to one or more of the Biden Foundation’s policy pillars, and their updates will bring you straight to the heart of the issues that drive our work forward. Read the previous issue here.