- Federal legislation introduced Wednesday would make community college tuition accessible for all students and four-year public and private minority-serving colleges tuition-free for those whose families earn less than $125,000 a year.
- The College for All Act, from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., also would double the maximum Pell Grant award to $12,990 for the next academic year. Lawmakers have introduced versions of the legislation in prior years.
- The measures reflect many of President Joe Biden’s campaign proposals, but they face a divided Congress.
The latest bill would bring federal support to an existing network of state and local free college initiatives. States would be encouraged to “sustain and expand” these offerings, according to a bill summary. According to advocacy group College Promise, more than 360 such programs exist across the country, including 31 statewide programs. A taxon-specific Wall Street activity would help fund the expansion. The federal government would pay 75% of providing free tuition at public institutions, with states covering the remainder. Its share would grow to 90% during an economic downturn.
That mechanism appears to respond to concerns states wouldn’t be able to cover their costs.
“To make this a sustainable program, that has to happen,” said Wesley Whistle, senior adviser for policy and strategy at New America, a left-leaning think tank. Biden ran on the idea of making community colleges and public four-year colleges for families earning less than $125,000 tuition free. According to his campaign website, he also pledged to fund MSIs with the “equivalent to up to two years of tuition per low-income and middle-class student”.
Free community college is “maybe the minimum or the frontline piece that would move,” said Michele Streeter, a senior policy analyst at The Institute for College Access and Success, which has advocated for a federal-state partnership for funding public education. But the inclusion of four-year colleges reflects how that conversation has expanded in recent years, Streeter added. The bill sponsors also want to double the maximum value of the Pell Grant, which Biden called for on the campaign trail, and more than 1,000 education groups have thrown their support behind. Their legislation would not apply the increase to funds used at for-profit colleges, however. The called-for change far exceeds the $400 addition to the Pell Grant that Biden included in his annual budget request for the Education Department.