Washington Watch: AACC outlines transition agenda proposals

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Washington Watch is produced by the AACC office of government relations and policy analysis.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) has publicly released its formal top-line transition agenda for the incoming Biden administration.  

President-elect Joe Biden has created numerous teams, generally focused on individual departments, that are formally dedicated to ensuring that new executive branch personnel are familiar with the priorities of major interest groups. AACC’s policy statement complements its detailed U.S. Education Department regulatory agenda.

AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus has formally met twice with members of the education transition team. AACC Board Chair William Serrata, president of El Paso Community College (Texas), and immediate past-Chair Alex Johnson, president of Ohio’s Cuyahoga Community College, also represented AACC to the transition team. 

The communication to the Biden transition team focuses on longstanding AACC priorities in the areas of student financial assistance, workforce training, institutional support and other areas. Many of AACC’s positions have been reflected in campaign proposals from then-candidate Biden. In turn, some of the Biden-Harris proposals echo ideas either proposed by President Barack Obama or advanced in Congress, generally by Democrats.  

Student financing priorities

Core federal government assistance to community college campuses comes in the form of student aid. AACC supports America’s College Promise proposals that would eliminate tuition for community students — a position the association has held since early 2015. Incoming First Lady Dr. Jill Biden has stated publicly that she will continue her strong support for establishing a national Promise program. Many other proposals continue to surface about reducing college tuition to broad ranges of students or to establish debt-free college.  

AACC also supports substantial increases to the Pell Grant maximum, as proposed by the Biden campaign. (The current maximum grant is $6,345.) Such increases would likely help community college students to work fewer hours and/or borrow less.

AACC also continues to prioritize the establishment of short-term program Pell Grant eligibility and is urging the incoming administration to rally behind the concept. Opposition to this new eligibility has been widespread and surely unanticipated on community college campuses.

In recent days there has been fevered public debate about the possibility of Biden forgiving significant amounts of federal student debt, as much as $50,000. AACC’s materials emphasize the circumstances and needs of low-balance, low-income borrowers, whose repayment challenges often tend to be overlooked in the focus on eye-popping amounts of student debt.  

Also reflecting the association’s focus on the lowest-income students is a recommendation that the administration works to ensure that community college students are made fully aware of key potential federal benefits for which they may qualify.

Equity, job training and other institutional issues

AACC also is urging the Biden administration, as it has urged Congress, to make major investments in community college job training. The now-expired Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program is being held up as a model, but others, including the fledgling Strengthening Community College Training Grants program (SCCTG), could work well to support needed training.

AACC is requesting support for minority-serving institutions (MSIs), which continue to command strong political backing but may receive a further financial boost from the new administration. MSI financing buttresses the association’s broader equity agenda, which includes an emphasis on the need to improve transfer for all students, particularly Blacks and Latinos. 

The challenges of rural colleges in accessing federal funds were also emphasized by the association. One other priority that the association is raising is connectivity/broadband access. The national visibility of this last issue has clearly been elevated by the pivot to distance education during the pandemic, at both the postsecondary and K-12 levels.

Although all new presidential administrations take time to install new personnel and develop their own policies, the Biden-Harris team may have a relatively smooth initiation, despite evident political pressures. At minimum, many of the already announced Cabinet-level and other political appointees have had substantial Washington experience. As of this writing, however, neither the secretaries of education nor labor nominations have been announced.

About the Author

David Baime
is senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.