Blog by Eloy Oakley, Senior Advisor
President Biden has a bold vision for the future of country in his Build Back Better agenda, and critical education investments like the free community college and advancing affordability proposals are about opening opportunity for all Americans. As we close out National Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s also a time to celebrate what these proposals would mean for Latino students trying to pursue a postsecondary degree or certificate.
And there’s a lot to celebrate. The President’s proposal would make community college free for students who pursue a certificate or degree, attend college at least half-time, and qualify for in-state tuition (or would qualify but for their immigration status). Our nation’s community colleges are the gateway to an affordable, quality education for the majority of Latino students in higher education. The free community college proposal would provide more than $4,500 per full-time student, with the federal government initially covering the full amount and covering at least 75 percent once the program is fully phased-in, to states in exchange for making community colleges free to attend. If all states participate, this ambitious plan will extend opportunities to millions of students across over 1,000 institutions of higher education.
Additionally, the Advancing Affordability for Students (AAS) proposal will provide eligible students from low- and middle-income families, including DREAMers, two years of subsidized tuition at a four-year Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, or Minority-Servicing Institutions (MSIs), such as Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving Institutions (AANAPISIs) – either as first-time students or as transfer students.
The Build Back Better agenda is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in our Latino students. In addition to the $1,875 increase to the maximum Pell Grants (almost half of all Hispanic students receive Pell Grants), we project that, if all states participate, the plan would:
- Eliminate tuition and fees for the nearly 55 percent of all Hispanic postsecondary students who are enrolled in community colleges;
- Include over 90 percent of Minority-Serving Institutions in the free community college and AAS proposals combined;
- Include institutions that serve half of all undergraduate students, including about 70 percent of Hispanic students, across both of those proposals.
The pandemic has hit Main Street much harder than Wall Street, and working families have struggled to gain a foothold in the pandemic economy. Students from communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by this reality. Hispanic individuals saw people saw the largest declines in employment of any group due to the pandemic, and their unemployment rates remain more elevated today. Importantly, the benefits of free community college tuition will be designed to support all Americans, but will promote equitable access and a path to upward mobility especially for students of color and those from lower-income families. In cities both urban and rural, hardworking Americans are looking for livable wage paying jobs that can support their families, and postsecondary credentials are more important than ever for our learners and workers to be competitive in our labor market and help drive our economy. The challenge for everyday Americans is that for many, a college education or career training has not been within reach for them.
Community colleges have long served those who need it most: students juggling work and life along with school, students who are supporting their own children’s education, students who are experiencing poverty and weighing the option of education versus another part time job to pay the bills, students who are English language learners and immigrants to our country, students who may be incarcerated or who are in reentry following incarceration, and so many more.
As a parent, working learner, and product of a community college myself, I can clearly attest to the value of a community college education—not only for me, but for my entire family. President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda provides for the kind of opportunity that I received to so many more Americans. And given the challenges that most everyday Americans have endured during the last 18-months, they deserve it.