A $109 Billion Question: How to Make Free Community College Worth the Investment
Would President Joe Biden’s free community college plan propel a once-in-a-generation investment in the nation’s skilled workforce, or would it be a waste of resources? How can free college policies be designed with student outcomes in mind?
The latest episode of JFF’s new podcast, When Policy Meets Practice, seeks answers to those critical questions.
Host Paul Fain explores the merits and pitfalls of tuition-free plans with two community college presidents: Russell Lowery-Hart of Texas’s Amarillo College and Bill Pink of Michigan’s Grand Rapids Community College—who are both members of JFF’s Policy Leadership Trust.
In their conversations with Paul, Russell and Bill share their experiences running college promise programs that have garnered a groundswell of support and resulted in improved educational and employment outcomes. At the end of the episode, JFF’s Lexi Barrett and David Altstadt join Paul for a wrap-up conversation to put the issues in perspective.
How can free college policies be designed with student outcomes in mind?
Russell discusses what it took to launch Amarillo Thrive in his deeply conservative community, and how Amarillo College redesigned academic supports to improve student success. Meanwhile, Bill says he drew from his experience running the Grand Rapids Promise Zone scholarship program to outline key policy and programmatic considerations for Michigan’s two wildly popular statewide free community college programs: Reconnect, for adults over 25, and Futures for Frontliners, for workers without college degrees who worked in essential industries during the state COVID-19 shutdown.
Bill and Russell offer practice-informed insights on what would make Biden’s $109 billion free community college plan most effective. They also share their thoughts on the other major proposals in the president’s $1.8 trillion American Families plan, such as the $62 billion student retention and completion initiative and the $80 billion Pell Grant expansion. Biden’s plan would provide two years of free community college for first-time students and workers who want to build new skills, significantly increasing access to opportunities to pursue degrees or certificates that lead to family-supporting careers. It is estimated that 5.5 million students—including DREAMers—stand to benefit from the program.
Biden’s plan would provide two years of free community college for first-time students and workers who want to build new skills, significantly increasing access to opportunities.
Federal and State Considerations From the Policy Leadership Trust
As the Biden administration promotes this proposal to policymakers and the public, the policy design that Congress develops will be critical to its success. JFF’s Policy Leadership Trust has developed practitioner-informed policy design principles for free community college programs that policymakers can look to as they work to turn Biden’s plan into reality. Check out this 2019 policy brief by the Policy Leadership Trust. After Biden unveiled his American Families Plan, JFF’s Taylor Maag wrote a blog summarizing the Policy Leadership Trust’s policy thinking about free community college.
How to Listen to Episode 2 of When Policy Meets Practice
Tune in to the second episode of JFF’s When Policy Meets Practice podcast to hear Paul Fain talk with Russell Lowery-Hart, Bill Pink, and JFF’s Lexi Barrett and David Altstadt about free community college. The episode is now available on JFF’s SoundCloud or on your favorite podcast platforms, using this shortcut.
You can find each episode in the Jobs for the Future feed in your favorite podcast app starting at 5:00 a.m. ET every other Monday. Be on the lookout for Episode 3, which will be available starting July 19. It will feature a conversation in which Paul Fain and his guests examine short-term training policy.