The House Committee on Education and Labor released on Wednesday legislation that would establish free community college tuition in participating states, raise the Pell Grant maximum award, support efforts to increase student success and increase resources for workforce development programs.
The legislation comprises the committee’s portion of the Build Back Better Act, a massive $3.5 trillion bill that Congressional Democrats are attempting to pass through a process called budget reconciliation. The legislation consists largely of proposals made by President Joe Biden in his American Jobs and American Families Plans. The Education and Labor bill constitutes $761 billion of the $3.5 trillion total.
Community colleges have much to like in the committee’s bill, and the American Association of Community Colleges has endorsed it. But the legislation has many hurdles to leap before enactment. After the committee marks up and presumably approves its bill in the coming days, it will be combined with other portions of the reconciliation bill approved by other committees into one large package.
When the full House will vote on that package is unclear, but it may do so by the end of the month. Even less clear is how and when the Senate will act on the legislation.
Nearly all Democrats in the House and every Democrat in the Senate must vote for the larger bill, and there are disagreements within the party on its overall price tag and specific components. Its fate is also linked to the bipartisan infrastructure legislation passed by the Senate last month.
For community colleges, the highlight of the bill is the inclusion of a modified version of the America’s College Promise Act (ACP), which would provide for tuition-free community college for eligible students in participating states.
The legislation makes several key changes to prior versions of the act to entice more states to participate. Most notably, states would now receive grants of 100% of the national median community college multiplied by the number of its full-time equivalent (FTE) eligible students in the first year.
In return, states are required to make community college tuition-free for eligible students (along with other requirements). The state would not be required to pay any matching funds in the first year. In subsequent years, the federal share decreases by 5%, and the state share increases by 5% each year, until the former reaches 80% and the latter 20% in the program’s final year.
Prior versions of the ACP legislation called for federal and state shares of 75% and 25%, respectively. The program is time-limited to comply with budget reconciliation rules, which don’t allow increases to the deficit outside of a 10-year budget window.
The bill’s other changes include additional provisions to define what state and local funds may be “counted” towards the state match, and which are subject to the maintenance-of-effort requirement. The legislation also limits eligibility to students who would qualify for in-state or in-district tuition (or would qualify other than their immigration status) at a given institution.
Pell grants and workforce development
In addition to ACP, the bill adds $500 to the maximum Pell Grant award for award years 2022-23 through 2029-30. If enacted and combined with the $400 increase included in the House Labor, HHS and Education appropriations bill, the maximum award would jump by $900 next award year. Even these lofty amounts, however, fall short of the $1,875 combined increase proposed by the administration for next year.
The reconciliation bill would also create a new, $9 billion competitive grant program to states to increase student success. Priority would go to state proposals that would use methods of increasing student success that research has shown to be effective. The administration proposed spending $62 billion on this program.
$80 billion in additional funds would go to various workforce development programs, including $2 billion over four years for Community College Workforce Partnerships, a program similar in nature to the now-expired Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program. The TAACCCT program itself falls under the House Ways and Means committee jurisdiction, and that committee would fund the TAACCCT program at $9.1 billion over seven years in its portion of the reconciliation bill. It is unclear if Democrats would include both provisions in final legislation.
The legislation also provides increased funds for other key community college programs, including Perkins CTE grants ($3 billion), Adult Education ($3.6 billion), and HEA Title III and Title V programs for minority-serving institutions.
Finally, the bill would make DACA students eligible for student aid programs, including Pell grants and student loans.