First lady Jill Biden visited Mesa, Arizona, on Monday to promote a Mesa Community College program that offers two years of tuition-free education to students.

“We need more communities to follow Mesa’s lead,” Biden said.

MCC’s Mesa College Promise covers the cost of two years of Arizona resident tuition and fees plus semester stipends for other educational expenses for eligible Mesa high school graduates. The public-private partnership is funded by the City of Mesa, Mesa philanthropists and businesses including Apple, AT&T, McCarthy Building Companies, Meta and SRP.

Biden, who’s taught English and writing at Northern Virginia Community College since 2009, sounded audibly hoarse after cheering for the Philadelphia Eagles in Sunday’s Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.

“This isn’t a Democrat or Republican idea, it’s an American idea, championed by leaders from both sides of the aisle,” Biden said. “In fact, like your mayor, some of our biggest supporters have been Republicans.”

Mesa Mayor John Giles said Biden’s visit was “the answer to our prayers” to raise awareness for the program, which he said doubled in size from its first to second year. “Thank you for helping us to raise awareness, and we know that this program is going to continue.”

Giles called Mesa “an overachiever when it comes to economic development,” but said Mesa needed to do a better job providing “a well-prepared workforce for those employers that are bringing high-paying wonderful jobs for this community.” He called raising money for the program the easiest thing he does as mayor.

“The easiest job I’ve ever had as mayor is raising money for this program because the business community understands the importance of workforce development,” Giles said.

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First lady Jill Biden visits Mesa Community College in Mesa, Ariz., Monday, Feb. 13, 2023, to highlight how affordable community college programs like Mesa College Promise are providing students with career-connected learning opportunities that lead to good-paying jobs. | Rob Schumacher, The Arizona Republic via Associated Press

Biden was introduced by Lilly Hernandez, an MCC student studying construction management who said she applied to Mesa College Promise after speaking with her high school vice principal.

“The fact that I don’t have to pay for tuition is the only reason I’m able to stand here today,” she said.

Biden’s visit was part of a push by her husband’s administration to highlight issues from his State of the Union address. President Joe Biden said in his address last week that community colleges are “the best career training in America.”

The first lady was joined in Mesa by Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, who said historically there have been gaps between K-12, higher education and workforce partners, but that Mesa’s program was “closing gaps.”

“You figured it out,” Cardona said.

College Promise programs were proposed by the Obama administration in 2015 as a way to provide two years of tuition-free college to some students. Biden served as honorary chair of the College Promise National Advisory Board as second lady, and the number of College Promise programs has grown from about 50 in 2015 to nearly 400, according to the first lady’s office.

“We need pipelines that start in high school, provide access to two years of community college, and connect to great jobs because that’s the future of our workforce and our economy,” Biden said.