Bill Would Send $20 Million Annually to Community College Agriculture Programs
- New federal legislation aims to boost community college agriculture programs with annual grants.
- The Community College Agriculture Advancement Act has bipartisan support in both the U.S. House and Senate and is endorsed by a broad range of community college organizations.
- Community colleges could use the funding to set up apprenticeships, buy equipment, educate community members, and more.
Proposed federal legislation might soon give community college agriculture programs a massive boost, to the tune of $20 million per year.
The Community College Agriculture Advancement Act, sponsored by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in both the U.S. House and Senate, would send $20 million per year toward community college workforce training, education, and research programs in agriculture from the 2024 through 2029 fiscal years.
Community colleges that receive grants under the proposed legislation could use that money to:
- Develop apprenticeships and work-based learning opportunities for students
- Buy equipment and build out program infrastructure
- Educate their communities about agriculture
- Set up collaborations with other higher education institutions
- Invest in faculty growth and development
- Compete for additional federal grants and other funding sources to bolster research and outreach
The grants could also go toward business education topics that relate to farming, like helping farmers with financial literacy and accounting.
Community colleges are critical training grounds for farm workers, according to a press release from bill sponsor Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado), but are often excluded from federal funding opportunities. The annual $20 million aims to remedy that exclusion.
"Despite strong funding for higher education agriculture programs, community colleges aren't seeing their fair share," Hickenlooper said in the release. "This bill closes that gap to help community colleges train future farmers and build the agricultural workforce we need."
The proposal has bipartisan support: Additional sponsors of the bill include Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), and Todd Young (R-Indiana). The House version of the bill is sponsored by Reps. Trent Kelly (R-Mississippi) and Salud Carbajal (D-California).
"Through their research into cutting-edge precision ag technologies or workforce development programs, community colleges are a vital part of Nebraska's agricultural economy," Fischer said in the release. "Our legislation would ensure community colleges get the federal resources they deserve to expand their successful educational and workforce training initiatives in the community."
In addition to its bipartisan support in Congress, the bill has garnered widespread support from community colleges and higher education organizations.
Community College Alliance for Agriculture Advancement Executive Director Tracy Kruse said in the release that the legislation "would support the development of new middle skills workforce programming that is imperative to meeting our world's growing food needs and sustaining our land and natural resources for future generations."
The Rural Community College Alliance likewise supports the bill, the organization's President and CEO Jill Loveless said in the release.
"It is critical that we maintain our strong agricultural communities for the strength of our nation," Loveless said.