As part of his 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden proposed tuition-free community college. This is now off the table.
First Lady Jill Biden, a community college professor who was leading the initiative, delivered remarks Monday at a summit of community college leaders addressing the changed plans.
As the New York Times reported, Biden said:
“One year ago, I told this group that Joe, my husband Joe, was going to fight for community colleges,” she said at the Community College National Legislative Summit in Washington. “But Joe has also had to make compromises. Congress hasn’t passed the Build Back Better legislation — yet. And free community college is no longer a part of that package.
In his 2020 campaign platform, Biden said he would “enact legislation to ensure that every hard-working individual, including those attending school part-time and DREAMers (young adults who came to U.S. as children), can go to community college for up to two years without having to pay tuition.”
There were already indications that it wasn’t moving forward when it wasn’t included in President Biden’s Build Back Better framework last fall.
But the first lady’s remarks appear to be the first public acknowledgement that it is not moving forward in the near future.
In October, President Biden reportedly dropped community college from Build Back Better after Senators Joe Manchin and another unnamed senator, presumed to be Kyrsten Sinema, declined to back those provisions.
Still, questions remain about why two Democratic senators within the President’s sphere of influence can block legislation that dozens of Democratic legislators support, especially after Build Back Better had already been cut by half of what Democrats initially proposed.
At Monday’s summit, First Lady Biden said “We knew this wouldn’t be easy…Still, like you, I was disappointed. Because, like you, these aren’t just bills or budgets to me, to you, right? We know what they mean for real people, for our students.”
Black students in particular benefit from free community college. Two-year college helps them disproportionately by “increasing college enrollment, lowering dependence on student loan debt and improving completion rates,” EdSource reports.
In remarks last month, Biden stated he believes Congress could approve “pieces” of Build Back Better, though time is slipping as midterms approach. It’s unclear if free community college will be considered among those legislative provisions to include.