During the 2018-2019 school year, 5.6 million students attended community college, and about 2 million were full-time students. Whether students attend with the goal of transferring credits to a four-year degree program or graduating with specialized skills in their field, community college is still something which requires planning and funding.
For many people in the United States, community college is still an expensive option. The recent effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment, and the economy have made paying for an education more difficult. In fact, a recent Junior Achievement survey found 25% of the class of 2020 delayed their college plans because of the pandemic.
First Lady Jill Biden is leading the journey to recovery with her support for free community college. Dr. Biden is a community college educator and knows the benefits and pitfalls students often encounter. Known to her students as Dr. B, she currently teaches English at Northern Virginia Community College, the first presidential spouse to work outside of the White House in history.
Because of her career with community colleges, she has long been a vocal supporter of free two-year community college. As First Lady, Dr. Biden has brought this priority with her and her husband to the administration. She’s intent on moving free community college from a dream to a reality.
Does Jill Biden Support Free Community College?
The idea of free community college is not a new one. The concept first came up in national conversation during President Barack Obama’s administration, when President Biden was vice president and Dr. Biden was the second lady, but never made its way out of Congress. Instead, individual institutions and some states have implemented their own College Promise plans similar to the original initiative. In those states, scholarships are used to cover the tuition not already covered by state and federal aid.
Dr. Biden has spoken out to support bringing the idea of free community college back. In fact, it appears she will lead the initiative, adding it to her ongoing work to support military families. As a community college professor, Dr. Biden has been a long-time advocate of community colleges and argues while the country is rebounding from the coronavirus pandemic, they are vital to restoring the economy. Free community college would also help schools, as enrollment appears to be down since the start of the pandemic.
The idea has traction within the Biden administration. On April 28, 2021, during his address to Congress, President Joe Biden announced $109 billion for free community college as part of his American Families Plan. The plan, led by Dr. Biden, also includes an increase to Pell Grants to make college a more attainable goal for low-income families, increased access to early childhood education by making it free for 3- and 4-year-olds, and an increase in funding to historically Black colleges and other minority-serving institutions. The centerpiece, though, is free community college — also frequently referred to as debt-free community college.
What Happens Next?
With financial aid applications already in the works for the fall, if community college is your next step after high school or to train for a new career, you might be wondering what happens next and how soon the plan might be implemented. While the American Families Plan has more momentum than it has had in the past, there is a long road ahead before the government potentially approves it.
The proposal has not yet gone before Congress. Once it’s introduced, debating, amending, and voting will probably take months. The plan has some critics who cite issues with how it’s funded as well as how the money will be used. As an example, some critics spoke to MarketWatch and pointed out the pitfalls of the program such as not providing for other expenses, like books, fees, and room and board.
When it’s formally introduced, though, lawmakers feel the legislation has more chance for approval than in the past. To begin with, the idea has moved closer to the mainstream. As a candidate, President Biden added his voice to Dr. Biden’s and campaigned on the bill. He has brought the priority with him to the White House. According to a Pew Research Center poll, 83% of Democrats and 39% of Republicans now support free community college.
Who Would Be Eligible for Free Community College Under Jill Biden’s Plan?
Under the current American Families Plan, all Americans would be eligible for free community college. This includes all income levels and doesn’t exclude any age group. It also includes students who qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The plan allows for students to have up to three years to use the benefit, and some may even qualify for four years. The Biden administration believes if all states, tribes, and territories participate, it would help around 5.5 million students.
Besides the direct benefit of free tuition, the American Families Plan also includes funding for schools using innovative methods to achieve higher student retention. Some areas the administration is including are childcare, mental health, and emergency needs grants.
While funding for the plan is still vague and subject to change as it works its way through Congress, it appears much of the American Families Plan is based on tax increases for the wealthy and corporations. Additionally, states might be asked to contribute to the costs.
Jill Biden’s Goals for Community College in 2021
Dr. Jill Biden — who also counts among her degrees a doctorate in educational leadership — has been teaching for three decades, of which she has spent a great deal at community colleges. She has called them the “backbone of America’s postsecondary education and training system.” She knows the potential and challenges facing students attending community college. She believes there is an added value for society when you invest in community college programs.
Because of her background, her advocacy focuses on what we can achieve with free community college. She believes for the economy to recover; we need community colleges to help retrain workers who have lost jobs. She also believes community colleges are in a unique position to train people for the job markets with worker shortages.
Dr. Biden, along with Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently visited Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon, Illinois. During her remarks, the first lady said “community colleges just meet students where they are, and they help them be the people they want to be.”
She believes students attending these institutions often have additional needs which must be addressed for them to be successful, and community colleges are well qualified to help. Once someone has a degree from a community college, they are often prepared to move into better-paying jobs, which can boost the economy when people spend money at stores, restaurants, and entertainment venues. During her speech in Illinois, she also expressed her views on the negative effects of excluding people from certain income levels who want to continue their education.
Learn More About the Costs of Attending College at CollegeFinance.com
With the help of the first lady, free community college may become a reality, but it’s unlikely to happen quickly. While the American Families Plan highlights the priority, the proposal will need to pass both the House and Senate before being implemented. In the meantime, if you or a family member is considering community college as the next step, make sure you have filled out your financial aid forms and have researched what programs are available for community college in your state and community.
Whether you are attending a four-year institution or a community college, CollegeFinance.com can help you make the most of your post-secondary education. We offer comprehensive resources on planning for college — including getting funding — and what to do once you graduate. Visit us today and start planning for your future.