President Joe Biden is pitching for a 13.6% increase in funding for the U.S. Education Department and an 11% boost for the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), continuing the administration’s series of generous requests for programs of interest to community colleges and their students.
Thursday’s release of the president’s fiscal year 2024 budget formally kicks of the annual federal appropriations cycle for the funding year beginning October 1. Although more details will come next week, some of the budget requests of note include:
- A $820 increase in the Pell Grant maximum — that would bring the maximum grant to $8,215 by July 1, 2024 — as part of a campaign to double award. However, $320 of that increase would need legislative changes that will be difficult to enact. The core (discretionary) program funding increase is set at $500. An 11.4% increase in recipients is anticipated for the coming award year due, in part, to changes to need analysis enacted as part of the 2020 FAFSA Simplification Act.
Related article: AACC statement on the president’s proposed budget
- A new $500 million competitive grant program would provide two years of free community college for students enrolled in high-quality programs that lead to a four-year degree. Institutions would be eligible for the grants if they have a fully articulated 100% guaranteed credit transfer or if they offer credit-bearing career programs in “in-demand industries that meet benchmarks for wages and employment,” as described in budget materials. This is much scaled back from the America’s College Promise (ACP) proposal that was advanced in the last Congress, but its more focused approach may be more politically palatable and sidestep some of the policy issues associated with ACP. The budget also proposes $90 billion in “mandatory” funding for the program.
- $100 million for DOL’s Strengthening Community College Training Grants, which includes a $35 million increase from FY 23 funding and a top AACC priority for the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).
- A $50 million increase for registered apprenticeships, which is another key workforce priority for AACC.
- $200 million for the Career-Connected High Schools initiative to support partnerships between school districts, institutions of higher education (primarily community colleges) and businesses. The program, which was also a part of last year’s budget, would be administered under the Carl Perkins Act, whose basic state grants were increased by slightly more than 3%. Adult education state grants are slated to remain at the FY23 enacted level.
- Substantial increases for the institutional aid programs that are critical to community colleges, including the Hispanic-Serving Institutions and other Minority-Serving Institutions programs. The Title III-A, Strengthening Institutions program is also proposed to receive an $87 million increase, but these funds will be hard to find.
- The Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program, another top AACC priority, is slated for a $20 million increase, to $95 million.
- A significant increase in funding for student aid administration. Increased funding was rejected in the bill enacted last year, hampering ED’s ability to effectively manage the Direct Loan program and to implement FAFSA simplification and related processes. This increase will likely again face skepticism from Republican members.
- Finally, the budget framework offers support for expanding nutritional assistance programs to low-income college students as part of the 2023 Farm Bill reauthorization.
Rocky road from here
The Biden budget will influence funding discussions in the weeks to come, but many — if not most — of its components are unlikely to be written into law. Even with a Democratic-controlled Congress for his first two years in office, many of the president’s proposals were rejected, in part, because of the opposition of Senate Republicans, who had tremendous leverage due to the potential for filibuster.
In the current Congress, Biden faces a Republican-controlled House whose majority is committed to reducing spending on domestic programs. The new chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Labor-HHS-ED, Rep. Charles Aderholt (R-Alabama), is a staunch fiscal conservative and is committed to reducing social spending. The corresponding Senate subcommittee is headed by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), a longtime community college champion.