September 9, 2021
Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee revealed their proposals Wednesday for billions of dollars in new higher education spending — from tuition-free community college to increased Pell Grants — as Congress works to develop President Biden’s Build Back Better Act.
The bill text is modeled on Biden’s American Families Plan, released in April, and will be a part of a package that Democrats intend to pass using a procedural process called budget reconciliation. That allows the legislation to pass with a simple 51-vote majority in the Senate, meaning Republican support won’t be necessary.
The primary difference between the initiatives Biden proposed and what congressional Democrats included is the level of investment — with a $3.5 trillion limit on the overall package and other committees jockeying to fund their priorities, the amount of funding appropriated for individual programs often doesn’t match the president’s initial goals. For example, the legislation includes a $500 increase to the maximum Pell Grant for the 2022-23 award year — and a staggered boost of $500 for subsequent award years until 2030 — while Biden initially proposed a $1,400 increase.
“In particular, while we appreciate the committee’s recognition of the fundamental importance of Pell Grants, a $500 increase to the maximum grant award does not go nearly far enough,” said Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education.
Tuition-free community college would become a reality under the bill through a program referred to as America’s College Promise. The legislation would create a federal-state partnership grant to eliminate the cost of tuition at a community college or a tribal college or university. The federal government would contribute 100 percent for the first year, decreasing its share by 5 percent for each subsequent year.