Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called community colleges "a uniquely American national asset" in a speech Thursday that praised the work of those institutions while linking them to the priorities of the Trump administration and conservative leaders.
She gave her remarks at the Community College National Legislative Summit in her first speech on higher education since being confirmed as secretary last week.
"You are nimble, inclusive and entrepreneurial. You provide important and valued pathways to success in this competitive economy," she said. "You equip students for high-demand fields and skilled jobs that help grow local economies and maintain communities."
DeVos also credited community colleges with helping to close the skills gap between employers and potential employees and for adjusting to the schedules and needs of students. And she highlighted the role early-college high school programs are playing in helping more students earn their degrees faster by allowing them to take college courses in high school.
She did not touch on issues involving transfer students, although many enroll at community colleges planning to eventually transfer to a four-year institution. But the themes of her comments matched the priorities talked about by the White House and Republican lawmakers like North Carolina Representative Virginia Foxx, the chairwoman of the House education and the work force committee -- facilitating vocational education, expanding the number of certificates awarded to students and putting a greater emphasis on alternatives to the traditional model of a four-year college education. DeVos noted that President Trump's 100-day action plan includes a call to expand vocational and technical education.
Her speech did not include any specific commitments in those areas. And although DeVos acknowledged the legislative agenda of community colleges would include a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and more flexibility for Pell Grants, she did not say what specific policies might receive backing from the Department of Education.