Reporter’s notebook

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  • Promising practices to increase diversity in higher ed
  • Tax-free Pell bill introduced in Senate

Promising practices to increase diversity in higher ed

The Biden administration on Thursday released a report that outlines strategies to increase diversity in higher education, including working with community colleges to develop better transfer pathways to four-year institutions.

The report, which the U.S. Education Department (ED) has worked on since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling this summer that rejects affirmation action in college admissions, notes that nearly 7.5 million students enroll in community colleges, comprising 35% of undergraduate students nationwide.

“Many of those students are low-income students and students of color, making transfer admissions an important opportunity to enhance equitable access to four-year selective colleges for those and other students who have less direct access from high school,” the report says.

ED highlights the barriers for transferring students, including four-year institutions not accepting earned credits, which often means students must retake courses, resulting in more cost and time for the student. While 81% of community college students report aspiring to earn a baccalaureate, only 15% of two-year college students who transfer to a four-year institution eventually get a bachelor’s degree, it says.

“As a result of the broken transfer system in higher education, students may never transfer, may lose momentum from lost credits, or may be unable to earn an intended bachelor’s degree or associate’s degree, potentially leaving students with debt but no degree to pay for it,” the report says.

ED also highlights successful transfer initiatives noting a program between Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University that provides 100 structured degree program pathways that serve about 2,000 students.

The 59-page report also discusss K-12 college counseling, tuition-free programs, comprehensive supports, the role of states, dual enrollment, summer programs and more.

Tax-free Pell bill introduced in Senate

A bipartisan bill introduced this week in the Senate would fully exclude Pell grants from taxable income and would no longer require students to subtract Pell grants from the tuition and related expenses for which they can claim tax credits.

Despite the success of the Pell Grant program and the American Opportunity Tax Credit (which provides students up to $2,500 for tuition and course materials), the complex U.S. tax code and a lack of coordination between the two programs prevent students from maximizing the programs’ benefits, according to Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), who introduced the Tax-Free Pell Grant Act. While Pell grants used for tuition and fees are tax-free, any portion that covers other education costs, like living expenses, is taxed. In addition, students must subtract their Pell grant from the amount of expenses for which they claim the AOTC. The issue primarily affects students at lower-cost schools, such as community colleges.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), Association of Community College Trustees, American Council on Education and other higher education organizations support the bill. Making Pell grants tax-free and helping community college students qualify for the AOTC is a priority for AACC.

Earlier this year, Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and Mike Kelly (R-Pennsylvania) introduced similar legislation (H.R. 3000) in the House.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.