Free community college, a big hit on the campaign trail, is a key piece of President Joe Biden’s plan to rebuild the economy, and projects a blue-collar message that dovetails with his public persona and his wife’s teaching career.
It has also splintered the nation’s colleges and universities.
So far, Biden has stayed faithful to his community college pitch by including $12 billion for updating physical and technological infrastructure at community colleges in his $2 trillion infrastructure plan unveiled earlier this month. But what community colleges see as a boon after years of financial struggles, some four-year colleges see as a potential threat to their sagging enrollment.
Community colleges also have a champion in first lady Jill Biden — who teaches at a community college in Northern Virginia. Both she and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona are headed to Dixon, Ill., on Monday to tour Sauk Valley Community College.
Education groups are hoping Biden won’t make them choose between proposals for free college and those that boost financial aid, because they’re convinced Congress can’t stomach the price tag of doing both.
“I’m concerned that there could be a food fight,” J. Noah Brown, president of the Association of Community College Trustees, said in an interview.
“If you really want to screw things up, pit the sectors against one another,” he said. “When the sectors are pitted against one another, as you can well imagine, community colleges tend to lose more. I’m very worried about it.”