Free community college is off the federal table
Dr. Jill Biden confirmed today what has been increasingly evident over the past few weeks – a nationwide free community college is no longer on the table.
This proposal – which the First Lady has long championed – had been a major part of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, and Biden had said his wife would help lead the effort to make it happen.
But Build Back Better now appears dead in the water, after months of negotiations that failed to win the necessary support from all Senate Democrats, especially Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who resisted calls of the White House to agree to several compromise versions of the legislation.
Dr. Biden acknowledged that his signature legislative bill had reached an impasse in remarks made Monday at the Association of Community College Trustees’ National Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C.
“A year ago I told this group that Joe was going to fight for community colleges,” Dr. Biden said. “But Joe also had to compromise. Congress has yet to pass the Build Back Better legislation. And free community college is no longer part of this package.
Even though it had been clear for some time that the free community college offer was not going to survive, a fate that President Biden and the First Lady have already acknowledged, it was still a bitter pill — and a mission few enviable – for the First Lady to be the one to publicly break the bad news to her community college colleagues.
She told the audience that although she knew ‘it wouldn’t be easy’, it was still a bummer for her that she couldn’t pass the layout because ‘it’s not just bills and budgets for me. “. Biden, who still teaches at Northern Virginia Community College, vowed that she and the president would continue to fight for the progress students deserve, ending her remarks with a “we’re not giving up” pledge.
In an early form of Build Back Better, Biden’s free community college plan would have earmarked $45.5 billion to cover the cost of two years of tuition and fees for eligible students at community colleges in participating states. and eligible tribal colleges and universities. The program was to be funded by a combination of federal funds and matching state funds, based on the median cost of tuition and fees nationwide. For the first year of the program, the federal share was to be 100% of the cost, with no state counterpart required. In subsequent years, the federal/state share would have increased to 95/5, 90/10, 85/15, and 80/20.
Biden’s US bailout funneled billions into community colleges and four-year universities, but the failure to secure free community college tuition across the finish line — along with the Biden’s refusal (so far) to cancel student debt at the levels many progressives want – has left many higher education advocates disappointed or even angry.
The end of a federal plan to make community colleges free doesn’t mean the policy is over in the roughly 20 states that offer various versions of what are often called “Promise” programs, through which states cover costs up to two years of tuition at their public two-year colleges for eligible students.