Biden touts community college proposal, healthcare during L.A. visit

Vice President Biden joked with dental hygiene students while at West L.A. College on Friday

Vice President Joe Biden visited several Los Angeles sites on Friday to tout and gather support for two of the White House's signature initiatives: a plan to make the first two years of community college free and the Affordable Care Act.

During a morning visit to West Los Angeles College in Culver City, Biden stopped in a dental hygiene classroom to meet with staff and students. The campus was one of 15 community colleges recently selected by state officials to offer a baccalaureate degree, a move that could provide the area with skilled workers and give students a much cheaper option than attending other campuses.

A four-year degree at a community college would cost about $10,000 in tuition, roughly half the cost of attending a Cal State campus, according to estimates.

"I should get my teeth cleaned," Biden said when he spoke with Norina Del Rosario, a senior at West L.A. College.

School officials said they hope to start their four-year classes by 2016. The program, which is expected to receive final state approval in March, currently has about 55 students, but that number should grow.

President Obama recently proposed making community college nearly free for many high school graduates. Under that plan, which needs Congressional and state approval, the federal government would pay 75% of the costs of the two-year schools, requiring states to pick up the rest.

During an informal speech, Biden said the plan to provide students with free tuition would give them flexibility to pursue degrees and careers without incurring debt.

He also said that the U.S. is well-positioned for future economic growth, but that there are thousands of jobs that still need to be filled. Those are particularly in technical and medical fields that require specialized education and have salaries in the $70,000-per-year range.

"You can live a middle-class life" with that income, Biden said.

After a closed-door discussion with students and community college administrators, Biden went to Homegirl Cafe, near Chinatown, where he was greeted with scattered applause by surprised diners.

Biden asked several patrons whether they'd enrolled in the Affordable Care Act and took pictures with others. This year's deadline to sign up for health coverage is Feb. 15.

During a discussion with several healthcare and civic leaders, Biden praised the state's effort to enroll people in healthcare plans. He said information gathered in healthcare applications would not be shared with other government agencies.

"There is nothing, nothing, nothing that can be used by authorities for deportation," Biden said.

During his talk, Biden was seated in front of a plate of cookies and pastries. "Is this a test?" he asked before taking a piece of a chocolate chip cookie.

If it was, he didn't do so well: He also ate part of a brownie and a pastry during the part of the discussion watched by reporters.

jason.song@latimes.com
Twitter: @latjasonsong

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