Thank you, Fred. And thank you for the warm welcome at this conference. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you through our work with the White House Historical Association—and it’s wonderful to see you again.
I’m glad to be back with the Reagan Institute today. When I spoke here five years ago, I talked about how much I’ve learned from my students over the years. How they remind me, every day, of just how much education matters. And as your First Lady, that lesson has only been reinforced.
As I’ve traveled the country, I’ve visited red states and blue states. And I’ve found that the common values that unite us are deeper than our divisions. I’ve seen how a kind word or gesture can relax someone’s shoulders just a bit—can open their heart to what you have to say, even if we’ll never agree. I’ve seen how, despite our differences, most people want the same things: the chance to work hard and build a good life for our families.
Many of our leaders know that too. Not long ago, I was in Colorado, talking with state legislators from both sides of the aisle about bills that would provide free and reduced-cost job training for in-demand careers. And Governor Polis signed those bills last week.
I’ve met with Republican leaders in Vermont, Indiana, and Arizona to see the incredible ways they’re working to pioneer similar work.
So today, I’d like to talk to you once again about a place where I think America has so much common ground: The future of education.
When I was growing up, success meant one thing: getting a four-year degree. I’m sure that’s how it was for most of you as well. Many Americans still feel that way.
As some of you know, I teach at a community college not far from here. And while some of my students are working towards their bachelor’s degree, that path just isn’t right for all of them.
My husband, Joe, understands that, for most people, a high school diploma alone isn’t enough to find a great career. But that doesn’t mean there’s only one path to success. That’s why we’re bringing together our entire government—along with incredible allies like all of you—to bridge the gap between learning and earning. Students can take college courses in high school or enroll in Registered Apprenticeships. They can train in growing industries and find great jobs with associate degrees.
Now, a lot of these programs aren’t new. But here’s what is: Jobs.
Through the Biden Administration’s Investing in America agenda, we’re strengthening our nation’s infrastructure. We’re creating millions of jobs in growing industries like clean energy and manufacturing.
Recently, I met a 16-year-old welding student in Seattle who told me he was making $25 an hour thanks to the dual-enrollment training he got at his high school. I met a young man from Texas who, when he finishes his advanced manufacturing apprenticeship next year, will be able to take a job right away with a starting salary of more than $50,000. I met a young woman in Arizona earning a degree in construction management. She will graduate into a field where workers could make nearly $100,000 a year.
This work pays well and often doesn’t require four years of college.
That’s the Biden education pathway: our nation’s next horizon. It starts with free, high-quality universal preschool and creates a high school experience that prepares students for their next steps. It provides two years of affordable community college and opens up avenues to a four-year degree.
This is the future of our workforce—how we grow our economy from the bottom up and the middle out.
And in a time when we often can’t agree, it’s an area where we have so many values in common. We all want hardworking students to be successful, even if a four-year degree isn’t the right path.
We want them to be able to access learning that connects to the careers that pay well and are shaping our future. And businesses want more skilled workers who are excited about their field. We can have those things when we work together.
You know that because this organization has worked for so many years to bring together people from all walks of life, leaders from across the ideological spectrum to share ideas and best practices. It’s why you’re here today.
So I’m asking you to keep going.
Find innovative ways to connect students and employers, so every student, in every community, can find the path that works for them. Together, we will help Americans from all walks of life thrive in the jobs of the future.
Through the Biden education pathway, we can fundamentally transform what it means to make a living and make a life here in America.
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