Free community college is possible if Senate Democrats step up
Democrats in the US House of Representatives recently put forward a proposal to make community colleges free nationwide. This bill would restore free community college to the City University of New York (CUNY) system, which had been free for over 100 years. But unless Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stands up for the students, that proposal could be slashed by Republicans and moderate Democrats who threaten to halt major new investments.
Thanks to leaders like Dr Jill Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), the free community college has become mainstream and very popular idea. The vast majority of Democrats in Congress support it, but our local elected officials in New York have been hostile: both the elders Governor Andrew Cuomo and current mayor Bill de Blasio called for funding cuts for the City University of New York, where Juvanie is a trustee and president of the Student Senate.
What makes these attacks on CUNY particularly disappointing is that our colleges consistently ranks in the top 10 schools that help students from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter the middle class. Politicians who claim to be workers’ champions have long threatened the institutions in our city that help us the most.
The history of free classes at CUNY dates back to the founding of the schools in 1847. This lasted until 1976, when a financial crisis, combined with a racist backlash against college integration efforts, paved the way for our modern schooling system. Black and brown students at CUNY fought for open admissions, but were overpowered by the systemic racism that arose out of the conservative revolution of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. As governor of California, Reagan vilified the UC system and reduced public funding for higher education. Speaking of free classes and open enrollment policies, one of Nixon’s education advisors warned: “We risk producing an educated proletariat!âThis was the beginning of the end of free tuition systems in California and New York, and led to an uncontrollable spiral in tuition fees, even as CUNY students battled food insecurity and homelessness. .
These problems exist nationally. According to research conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, nearly three out of five students experienced basic needs insecurity in fall 2020, with particularly high rates at community colleges.
The current Congress proposal would go a long way in ensuring that students don’t have to choose between their next meal and save for tuition, as this is a âfirst dollarâ program. This means that the federal government would subsidize a student’s tuition and allow them to keep their Pell Scholarship, which can be used to offset additional costs such as books, accommodation, and transportation. which are often more expensive than the tuition fee itself.
Over the past year, Schumer has made calls for Biden to keep his promises by canceling student loan debt. Debt cancellation would be a huge step forward, but without adopting a college accessibility program, future students and borrowers will continue to accumulate more and more student debt.
The main skeptics of the free community college in the Senate are Republicans, who block Biden’s agenda, and a handful of Democrats. With very slim margins to pass a free community college bill, Senator Schumer will have to address their concerns and keep his caucus together.
What policies are they worried about? Senator Joe Manchin (R-WVA) expressed concern that the House proposal did not sufficient restrictions on student income and overall expenses. But the power of free community college programs is that they signal to students, often from low-income backgrounds, that there is a way for them to graduate. When programs add income caps, they confuse the message and programs are often woefully underused. Same VM invests, the free community college tuition program in the home state of Manchin West Virginia, has no income limit for participating students.