Democrats’ spending plan could make free college a reality

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Senate Democrats on Monday released the text of a budget resolution, which sets the framework for a $ 3.5 trillion spending plan.

Among widespread investments in social programs and climate policy, the budget resolution would make community colleges free for two years – a move President Joe Biden has been advocating since the election campaign.

“Basically, this legislation aims to restore the middle class to the 21st century and giving more Americans the opportunity to make it happen, “Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., told colleagues in a letter.” By making education, care more affordable health care, child care and housing, we can families a step ahead. “

The Senate could pass the bipartisan $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill as early as Tuesday, then move “immediately” to passing the budget resolution, Schumer said. Democrats can pass the spending plan without a Republican vote if all 50 of their members support the budget, in a process known as reconciliation.

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Twenty-five states, including Arkansas, Indiana, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Tennessee, already have free community college programs statewide, and more are expected to follow ahead. that the coronavirus pandemic does not strain state and local budgets.

In state programs already in place, students receive a scholarship for the amount of tuition that is not covered by existing state or federal aid.

Most are “last dollar” scholarships, which means that the program pays tuition and fees remaining after applying for financial aid and other grants.

How long will it take for colleges in your state to be free?

Source: Campaign for free tuition

Enrollment in four-year private colleges would fall by about 12%, while enrollment in public universities and four-year community colleges would increase by about 18%, according to a study on the economic impact of free tuition. some tuition fees by the Campaign for Free College Tuition and student advocacy group Rise.

“You have a net effect of almost 2 million more students enrolled in college,” said Robert Shapiro, lead author of the study and former economic adviser to President Bill Clinton.

“Release him and they will come,” he said.

I can’t think of a single policy change that would affect the long term prospects of as many people as it would.

Robert shapiro

former economic adviser to President Bill Clinton

Graduation rates would also increase, Shapiro found, leading to increased social mobility and higher incomes overall.

“I can’t think of a single policy change that would affect the long-term prospects of as many people as it would,” he said.

Over time, “I’m pretty confident that in the end this program will pay off,” Shapiro added. “This will increase revenue and also increase the underlying productivity, which [in turn] increase business income and profits.

“It’s the closest thing to a win-win.”

Although the overall employment trend is moving in the right direction as the economy recovers from the pandemic, millions of Americans are still out of work and in financial difficulty.

According to a survey by Junior Achievement and Citizens, a quarter of last year’s high school graduates delayed their college plans, in large part because their parents or guardians were less able to cover the costs.

According to another recent report by the Horatio Alger association, half of the students who do not attend university or who do not enroll in a vocational and technical education program would have attended if they had received financial aid. adequate.

Even fewer students enrolled in community college due to the pandemic.

Community college students are likely older, low-income, and often have a balance of work, kids, and other obligations. They are also disproportionately people of color – all groups that have been particularly hard hit by Covid.

However, not all experts agree that free college is the best way to tackle the university affordability crisis.

Critics say low-income students, thanks to a combination of existing grants and scholarships, already pay little or nothing in public school tuition.

Additionally, the money does not cover fees, books or room and board, all of which are costs low-income students struggle with, and the diversion of funds to free tuition could occur. to do so at the expense of other campus operations, including the hiring and retention of faculty. and administrators.

Plus, the community college is already significantly cheaper. In two-year public schools, tuition was $ 3,770 for the 2020-21 school year, according to the College Board. Alternatively, in four-year public schools the tuition was $ 10,560, and in private four-year universities it averaged $ 37,650.

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