Two years of community college for free under President Joe Biden appear to be a relic from the “Build Back better” spending spree.
Biden made an announcement to Congress in April about a $109 million plan to end tuition fees at community colleges. This is a resurrecting of a plan that was abandoned by the Obama administration. Biden’s plan will apparently share that fate, as it was not included in the giant-yet-nevertheless-scaled-back “framework” that the White House released this morning. He proposes an increase in the annual Pell Grant cap by $550. This would place the maximum grant for needy students at $7,000
Dumping the plan was the right thing to do—not that the White House had much choice. Biden said on CNN this month that Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.) One other senator, unnamed, did not support this plan. He didn’t get 50 votes to support it.
It is not the fact that many community colleges are poor. One of my friends went to one. Pell Grants, scholarships and other financial aid make them very affordable. An average student earning an associate’s degree may be able to afford two years education, even if they aren’t able to pay tuition.
Biden’s idea was however not tested for means. Although the proponents claimed that community college would become more affordable, it would actually subsidize those families already able to afford reasonable tuition.
Then there is the question of completion rates at community colleges, something that rarely makes it into the news. About 40% of students who attend community colleges complete their studies within the six-year period. It is not an issue in itself. Small college students are low-income and have many demands. But under Biden’s proposal, taxpayers would have been on the hook for the 60 percent who don’t make it—and this is on top of the extensive federal and state subsidies we’re already sending to our community colleges.
Do not assume tighter federal commitments will be possible with more federal subsidies. Washington has a comprehensive state grant program which allows students who meet certain criteria to receive tuition-free admissions at select community colleges. The Wall Street JournalReports state that even with the subsidies, the costs for housing, childcare, and transportation in Seattle is so expensive, many Seattle students choose to quit work. This is the JournalTimothy Stokes (president of South Puget Sound Community College) was the source of that nugget. Surprisingly, Stokes believes this to be an argument for MoreWashington State could use taxpayer funding to pay for tuition and financial assistance.
Stokes should be shown this chart from American Enterprise Institute. This graph shows how government regulations continue to drive up the cost of goods and services. The price of college tuition has risen 200 percent since 1997. This is far more than the inflation rate. Pell Grant expenditures grew from 2008 to 2010. Although this spending has decreased a little, the federal government continues to spend billions on tuition aid more than in the past.
Some colleges of four years opposed the program for free community college, and supported an increase to Pell Grant funding. This is the JournalThe following is explained: Lobbyists representing public four year colleges believe that funding might be diverted from the states by state officials. Students who would otherwise have gone to four-year colleges may instead choose to go to community college their first two years. This will deprive those schools of any tuition funding.
This “concern” highlights Biden’s biggest problem in his proposal. The subsidy of free community college doesn’t go to students, but it is a subsidy that goes towards the schools and school administrators. Barbara Mistick was president of National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. JournalThis system requires a new, massive bureaucracy. This type of plan always involves new systems to track success and retain struggling students. And a large portion of these billions of dollars could be used to pay staff.
Because community colleges are already so accessible, and because states are well-suited to devising mechanisms to keep them that way, federal subsidies would merely muddy the water—and put a straightjacket on a system that thrives on flexibility.