There’s been a lot of debate about Michelle Obama’s decision to spend her time in the White House as mom-in-chief instead of returning to professional life or taking on a prominent portfolio in her husband’s administration. But I haven’t seen much mention of the fact that Jill Biden went back to work yesterday. The longtime educator will be teaching two English courses this semester at Northern Virginia Community College.
Of course, the pressure has always been lower for the wife of the vice president (“Second Lady,” the official title, just sounds like a consolation prize). Tipper Gore had a few causes she championed, including mental health parity, but was mostly free to do her own thing, whether it was raising the Gore kids or pursuing her photography. Lynne Cheney may well have been in an undisclosed location for the past eight years, for all we heard from her.
Still, I hope Jill Biden, who has made no secret of the fact that she dislikes the spotlight, doesn’t spend the next four years in a bunker. It’s made me smile when I’ve heard her addressed as “Dr. Biden” at official events–those who worry about having good role models in the White House for young girls have to like that as well. Even more, she has a bully pulpit of her own now to advocate for an issue she cares about: community colleges.
You’ll notice Dr. Biden isn’t teaching at Georgetown or American University, but at Northern Virginia Community College. Her dissertation for the doctorate she earned in 2007 was on retaining students in community colleges. Already, 43% of college freshmen begin their education at two-year schools, and with the economy driving up tuition rates and making it harder for families to afford college, that percentage will rise. A few years ago, The Washington Monthly ran the first-ever ranking of the best community colleges, along with an argument for making them a more central piece of education policy. It’s an issue that is more relevant now than ever, and Dr. Biden could play a leading role in focusing attention and developing policy. When she’s finished grading papers, that is.