Free Community College in the US Is Officially Dead

“Congress hasn’t passed the Build Back Better legislation yet. And free community college is no longer a part of that package,” first lady Dr. Jill Biden said Monday.
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The Biden administration’s more than $45 billion plan to offer free community college to Americans is officially dead.

The lofty promise from the president’s 2020 campaign would have provided eligible students with the option to go to college for at least two years without any cost to them. But on Monday morning, first lady Jill Biden clarified once and for all that the initiative has been taken out of the Build Back Better Act.

“One year ago, I told this group that Joe, my husband Joe, was going to fight for community colleges,” Jill Biden said during the Community College National Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C. “But Joe has also had to make compromises. Congress hasn’t passed the Build Back Better legislation yet. And free community college is no longer a part of that package.”

With its fewer bureaucratic hurdles and cheaper cost, community colleges have been a crucial resource for Americans looking to pursue higher education but otherwise wouldn’t have had a way in. The plan would have especially benefited Americans of color who already make up 55% of community college students, according to the American Association of Community College

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While the plan was part of the president's broader push to increase social spending to benefit the middle class and poor Americans, Dr. Biden championed making this part of the Build Back Better legislation a reality because of her background as an educator. In her first few years of teaching, she was a professor at a Delaware community college and currently teaches English at Northern Virginia Community College.

"We knew this wouldn't be easy—Joe has always said that. Still, like you, I was disappointed,” Dr. Biden said. "We know what they [community colleges] mean for real people, for our students. It was a real lesson in human nature that people don’t get that.”

Had Biden’s plan for free community college moved forward, it would have been an expensive endeavor: The administration planned to invest $45.5 billion, which would have covered tuition for students across the nation for five years. The federal government would have covered the entire cost in its first year and then states that opt-in to receive the funds would cover 5 percent of the total cost for the second year, 10 percent the third year, 15 percent the fourth year, and then 20 percent after that.

The push for free community college is one of many parts of the Democrats' Build Back Better bill that the party has had to scrap to get the languishing bill onto the president’s desk before the upcoming congressional midterms. Other scaled-back plans included expanded child tax credits for parents as well as the president’s grand plans to wean the country off fossil fuels to cut emissions by 2030.

While a version of the Build Back Better Act did pass in the House last November, it has yet to move through the Senate and will likely see significant concessions to meet the demands of West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin. He has enormous power over the bill’s future in a 50-50 Senate and previously said he couldn’t vote for the bill.

The first lady and the president signaled that offering free community college was in danger in the months prior to Monday’s announcement. In January, the president said he wasn’t sure that the plan would make it into the final version of the bill if it ever gets passed by the Senate.

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