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California looks for aid from Biden’s plans for tuition-free community college and higher Pell Grants

California looks for aid from Biden’s plans for tuition-free community college and higher Pell Grants


Ashley A. Smith

April 28, 2021

As one of the leaders in offering free community college tuition to qualified low-income students, California is looking to get more federal assistance from President Biden’s proposals to make community college free and increase the federal Pell Grant to students.

California has long waived fees for the state’s community college students and offers programs that provide free two-year college tuition for qualified low-income students.  Biden’s proposal would extend free community college tuition to all students.  Higher education experts say Biden’s program would provide even more resources.

Jessica Thompson, associate vice president at The Institute for College Access & Success, or TICAS, said in many ways, California is ahead of the nation when it comes to making college affordable for community college students.

“California has been covering tuition and fees for low-income students at community college for a long time,” she said. “And with Pell Grants and state aid layered on top, it can be used for other costs of attendance.”  Community college fee is $46 per unit, among the least expensive college tuition in the country.  Students are encouraged to take 12 units per semester which would cost $552 per semester.  Living expenses in California drive the costs of college attendance.

The American Families Plan, which Biden will discuss Wednesday night in his first address to a joint session of Congress, includes:

  • $109 billion for two years of free community college.
  • A more than $80 billion investment in Pell Grants that would increase the maximum award by $1,400. The maximum award is $6,495 for 2021-22. The program would expand access to Dreamers, undocumented youth brought to the United States as children.
  • A $39 billion program providing two years of subsidized tuition for students from families earning less than $125,000 enrolled in a four-year Historically Black College or University, tribal college or university, or minority-serving institution. Along with an additional $5 billion to expand existing institutional aid and grants at these colleges.
  • A $62 billion investment in evidence-based programs and initiatives that “strengthen completion and retention rates at community colleges and institutions that serve students from our most disadvantaged communities.”
  • Doubling scholarships for future teachers from $4,000 to $8,000 per year while earning their degree. Biden proposes investing $2.8 billion in year-long, paid teacher residency programs; and targeting $400 million for teacher preparation at minority-serving institutions and $900 million for the development of special education teachers.
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