Reports: Free community college tuition out of Biden’s social spending plan

In Democrats' effort to get the multitrillion-dollar proposal passed, they may cut crucial piece to help families, students.

In what would be a devastating blow to two-year institutions and prospective students hoping for tuition relief, multiple media outlets have reported that the Biden Administration will eliminate free community college from its proposed $3.5 trillion federal social spending plan.

One of the key components to rejuvenating Americans after the COVID-19 pandemic and a staple in generating a future workforce, the free tuition plan would be jettisoned to appease moderate Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), who said the spending package was far too large. There is also a $1.5 trillion infrastructure deal that must be considered. Something had to go, and it appears to be community colleges.

By cutting that portion, along with decreasing funding toward other social programs and reducing the length of the child tax credit, Democrats will get closer to the $1.5 trillion top-line proposal suggested by Manchin. With those reductions, that would put them in the ballpark at close to $1.8 trillion.

Although cuts were floated last week after Manchin’s hardline stance, there was hope that transformational community college relief – so heavily promoted and promised even as part of Biden’s Build Back Better plan before the presidential election – would survive. But it appears the notion is completely on the cutting block as Democrats try to salvage other parts of the plan, including partially saving the child tax credit for families and climate assistance. Pell Grant increases and help for minority-serving institutions are also part of the plan.

The ramifications of the decision could be catastrophic for two-year institutions, which are trying to recover from massive enrollment losses fueled by the pandemic. In an interview two weeks ago with University Business, Dr. Martha Parham of the American Association of Community Colleges was hopeful about inclusion in the package despite the posturing, citing how vital it was to both institutions and those who attend them.

“We are really excited about the investment in community colleges as an engine for economic development and change,” said Parham, Senior Vice President of Public Relations. “This is really a bellwether moment, to have this level of support at the federal level. To see actual funding and programs put in place at this scale, it’s really historic.”

That level of help would especially help single parents working full-time jobs or those who have children taking courses to improve their lives. Or for the young, diverse, low-income students trying to carve out career paths.

Parham said at the time, “anything we can do to invest in support, systems, programs and services that help eliminate those barriers to their completion, we are excited about. It’s not just the free community college, but the wraparound services, the other grants, the workforce development and internships, all of those programs and services that are really going to impact community colleges and students.”

Whether any of those can survive now is in serious jeopardy. According to the initial Biden proposal, the Agenda would have “boosted the earnings of low-wage high school graduates by nearly $6,000 per year.” Without it, what will be the consequence? Several states offer assistance, some through Promise programs, but not all of them do.

Biden’s other lofty proposal, to help back students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities also took a massive hit, with a nearly 50% cut from its original suggested package.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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