President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team has met with representatives from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) to discuss priorities for the community college sector.
AACC was asked to participate in three meetings, each of which focused on specific topics, including higher education, homelessness and hunger, and voting rights and democracy.
Walter Bumphus, the association’s president and CEO, emphasized the immediate needs of community colleges and students related to the pandemic and urged the consideration of additional stimulus funds. He discussed several initiatives, including closing the equity and achievement gap.
Bumphus also addressed legislative priorities that would help students finance and fully participate in college, help restore national economic health through community colleges, and address regulatory and administrative imperatives. Specific programs mentioned were the Higher Education Act reauthorization, Pell grants, America’s College Promise and workforce development.
Bumphus commended the team on its plans to increase support for student services aimed at increasing completion.
Addressing basic needs
William Serrata, president of El Paso Community College (Texas) who serves as AACC board chair, presented information on homelessness and hunger issues that affect many community college students. He noted that a growing number of students struggle with hunger while trying to earn credentials and learn skills to help them better their lives, citing a study that indicated 58% of community college students face some sort of basic needs insecurity.
Serrata offered recommendations to mitigate these challenges, including stimulus payments, increased emergency aid funding, increased Pell grants, Pell grants for short-term training and using headcount instead of full-time equivalency to allocate funding.
Alex Johnson, president of Cuyahoga Community College (Ohio) and immediate past chair of the AACC board of directors, addressed voting rights and democracy, noting that the privilege needs to be strengthened and secured for low-income communities, communities of color and young Americans, including community college students.
Johnson highlighted efforts on campuses to empower newer voters and to provide invaluable civic experiences for future leaders. Specifically, he called for the Biden-Harris administration to incorporate best practices into a Presidential Commission on Democracy and Civic Education that harnesses the collective energy around nonpartisan voting efforts, such as the use of college IDs for voting. Johnson also noted that the Voting Rights Act needs strengthening to ensure votes are not suppressed for minority and poor citizens and those who need a second opportunity.
“We are humbled and honored to be a part of these discussions and look forward to working with President-elect Biden to advance the work of the nation’s community college,” Bumphus said. “Economic recovery from the pandemic and strengthening the middle class are priorities for the incoming administration, as well as for our colleges, and we stand ready to partner with them to benefit the millions of students that attend community colleges.”