Appropriations Hearing Highlights Role and Needs of Community Colleges

Related Topics in the Ref Desk: Cost of Attendance; Pell Grant

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

 The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies — or Labor-H for short — on Tuesday held a hearing highlighting the impact of community colleges and discussed how these institutions have been able to keep their programs affordable.

 As congressional leaders look to begin the annual appropriations process, members used the hearing to garner what sort of investments community colleges will need to help promote college access and affordability in the wake of the pandemic.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) who chairs both the subcommittee as well as the full Appropriations committee praised the role of community colleges in the higher education system and pledged to support schools with their needs in future spending legislation.

“As we write the fiscal year 2022 appropriations bill we must take stock of the strengths and the challenges of our community colleges and the potential they have to help develop our nation's workforce and revitalize our economy in the wake of the pandemic,” DeLauro said. “Our community colleges are the backbone of our education system, it is crucial that we provide them and their students with the funding and the resources needed to build a brighter and a more prosperous future for all Americans.”

During the hearing, ranking member Tom Cole (R-Okla.) was occupied in another committee so Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) filled in and commended community colleges on their access and affordability.

“Community colleges can save students anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 or more each year in comparison to traditional four-year universities,” Harris said. “Several states also offer additional funding to make the cost of enrolling in community colleges extremely low, opening a door to higher education for many who would otherwise have been unable to participate.”

Dr. William T. Brown, CEO of Gateway Community College, urged the committee to take the disruption of the pandemic into account and use federal resources to effectively educate and train students pursuing higher education.

“We urge you to continue and expand your support for established programs like Pell, GEAR UP, TRIO and Perkins and to seize the promise of newer programs like the Strengthening Community Colleges Training Grant,” Brown said. “Beyond support for community colleges and higher education, we also encourage you to enact policies and provide additional resources that will support families in feeding, caring for and educating themselves, meeting childcare, healthcare and transportation needs, and hastening our communities’ recovery from the pandemic”

The hearing follows Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and First Lady Jill Biden’s visit to Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon, Illinois on Monday, where the officials discussed the importance of community colleges to the economy. 

During Tuesday’s hearing, congressional members highlighted childcare needs for adult learners, providing increased access to broadband, particularly in rural areas, and the possibility of increasing and expanding the use of Pell Grants.

Many of these proposals are likely to come up during the annual appropriations process, along with President Joe Biden’s free community college proposal, which is currently in the works. As that legislation takes shape, a number of higher education advocates are also pushing for implementation of FAFSA simplification measures and increasing the maximum Pell Grant award.

NASFAA has recently called on congressional leaders to use this session to double the maximum Pell Grant award to $13,000. Additionally, on the college affordability front, NASFAA joined a number of higher education groups in advocating for the elimination of origination fees.

While Biden’s federal budget proposal had been delayed, its partial release along with yesterday’s hearing signifies movement in the budgeting process and could prompt negotiations into how Congress allocates their annual spending.

“I believe that I can say to the committee, on both sides of the aisle, that we are committed to making strong investments in community colleges through the appropriations bills,” DeLauro said. “It all leads to how people can get a shot at that American dream.”


Publication Date: 4/21/2021

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