Eligible students could attend community or technical college for free under a new bill introduced this week in Congress.
Sponsored by Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia and other Democrats, the America’s College Promise Act of 2023 would provide two years of tuition-free community or technical college as part of a new federal-state partnership, according to a news release. Students would have to attend an eligible institution more than half-time and qualify for in-state tuition in order to receive the tuition waiver.
The America’s College Promise Act also would waive two years of tuition and fees for eligible students at tribal colleges and universities and cover “a significant portion of tuition and fees” for low-income students who attend HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions. Several higher education associations and think tanks are backing the bill, but it’s unlikely to move forward in a divided Congress. No Republicans signed on to co-sponsor it.
“[F]or too many students, the cost of a two-year degree is holding them back, hamstringing businesses who need skilled workers and preventing them from providing for their families,” Baldwin said in the release. “America’s College Promise will break down those barriers for students who want to pursue a technical education, training tomorrow’s workforce without saddling young people with debt that prevents them from buying a house, starting a family, and contributing to our economy.”
Baldwin and other lawmakers have introduced similar legislation before, but those efforts didn’t move forward. President Biden also proposed a free community college plan in his fiscal year 2024 budget, which hasn’t gained much traction in Congress.
Baldwin’s office says the 2023 version makes “critical improvements” to the legislative plan for free community college. Those changes include giving states a more generous federal match than in past bills, eliminating requirements for tribes to match federal funds, and supporting state and local investment in higher education.
“The America’s College Promise Act is a major investment in expanding opportunities for students and building back a better economy,” said Scott, who is the top Democrat on the House education committee. “This bill is one critical piece of our comprehensive plan to make quality higher education more affordable for students and families and developing a competitive 21st century workforce.”