October 29, 2021
The White House and Democratic lawmakers unveiled Thursday the latest iteration of President Biden’s social spending plan — which includes a total of $40 billion in higher education and workforce development investments — with hopes that the substantially smaller package than originally proposed will finally garner enough support to pass Congress.
Though tuition-free community college — the original centerpiece of Biden’s college affordability agenda — was cut from the legislation during negotiations, the now $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act includes several wins for higher education — albeit, smaller wins than hoped for. Notably, the bill increases the current maximum Pell Grant award of $6,495 by $550, slightly more than what was originally proposed. If that’s combined with the proposed $400 increase to the award through the appropriations process, the purchasing power of the Pell Grant would be boosted from covering 29 percent of tuition, fees and room and board at a four-year public institution to 32 percent for the next academic year, said Kim Cook, CEO of the National College Attainment Network.
But the increase is only for students who attend public or private nonprofit institutions, a move that Jason Altmire, president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities — which represents for-profit institutions — called “unprecedented.”
“Congress has never done anything like this,” Altmire said. “I find it amazing that they’re doing this at the same time that they’re putting forward an infrastructure bill that’s going to require welders, heavy equipment operators and truck drivers — those are our schools, those are our students. We believe they should take another look at this and include all schools in all sectors in any Pell Grant increase.”
The legislation includes $500 million for fiscal year 2022 for college retention and completion grants, a federal funding focus that some policy experts have called “revolutionary.” Like other parts of the bill, the investment is much lower than proposed. But its inclusion represents a shift in how the federal government thinks about the issues facing college students, said Nicole Siegel, deputy director of education at the think tank Third Way.
“For too long we’ve focused on getting students into college and not enough on getting them through,” Siegel said. “Paired with the increase in Pell Grants, the investment in college completion and retention grants will provide front- and back-end affordability fixes to our higher education system, supporting our most underresourced students and the institutions that serve them.”