Everything Biden Said About Higher Ed in CNN Town Hall

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Everything Biden Said About Higher Ed in CNN Town Hall
portrait of Matthew Arrojas
by Matthew Arrojas
Published on October 22, 2021


Free community college is officially off the table for President Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan.

Most of Biden's domestic legislative agenda, including free community college, is wrapped up in an immense spending package currently being negotiated by Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

Last night, in a town hall with CNN's Anderson Cooper, the president said he was unable to gain the support of enough senators to keep free community college in the plan. Specifically, he said Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and one other unnamed senator — reportedly Sen. Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz. — forced the provision to be scrapped.

Following negotiations Monday, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., confirmed to CNN's Jake Tapper Tuesday that the free tuition proposal was being removed from the spending bill. In that interview, the California congressman said the plan had morphed instead into a plan to provide community college scholarships.

Biden on Thursday didn't mention scholarships, but said one concept still under negotiation is an increase in Pell Grant payments. He proposed increasing the amount of money received through Pell Grants by $500 per payment.

"It's not going to get us the whole thing," he said, "but it is a start."

“I guarantee you, we're going to get free community college in the next several years and across the board.”
Joe Biden

Federal Pell Grants are government subsidies paid out to students with financial needs. The amount granted varies depending on the financial system, but according to the U.S. Department of Education, the maximum award for the 2021-2022 award year is $6,495. The minimum is $650.

Biden added that Pell Grants are not the final goal for his administration, and he still has his sights set on instituting his free community college vision.

"I guarantee you, we're going to get free community college in the next several years and across the board," he said.

Free community college has been a Democrat priority since President Barack Obama introduced America's College Promise Act in 2015. Democrats reintroduced the legislative proposal in April.

It's unclear how or when the issue will resurface, but it seems poised to reenter the conversation again at some point. However, free community college won't have much of a chance unless Democrats can whip more votes in support for the proposition, either within the Democratic party or with Republicans across the aisle.

Manchin, one of the Democrats opposing free community college in its current form, has expressed interest in the past in an alternative. He previously told Education Secretary Miguel Cardona that he would instead prefer making student loans used for community college forgivable, which he suggested would motivate students to complete the program.


Feature Image: NICHOLAS KAMM / Contributor / AFP / Getty Images

More than two-thirds of Americans are in favor of free community college, but opinions differ according to age group. Community college transfers are rare on elite campuses, but they typically succeed once enrolled Advocates hope to double the main federal student financial aid award by 2022. Senate Democrats' contentious budget includes a $400 bump.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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