Community College Advocacy Update
This page provides the most recent updates from AACC’s Office of Government Relations (OGR) on key community college advocacy issues.
Budget and Appropriations
AACC advocates for robust increases to key community college programs as part of the annual budget and appropriations process.
Last month, House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved funding levels for 12 fiscal year 2024 (FY 24) appropriations bills. These toplines, called 302b allocations, are proposed by the committee chairs, voted on by the full committees and then handed over to subcommittee chairs to set funding levels for individual programs.
For FY 24, both chambers have proposed significant cuts to the Labor-HHS-Education funding bill. The Senate has proposed cutting overall FY 24 funding by 5.9%, to comply with the bipartisan agreement to raise the debt ceiling. The House Appropriations Committee approved a 302b allocation for Labor-HHS-Education that would decrease funding by nearly 30%. These numbers bode a very tough environment for AACC’s priority programs.
House and Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittees will now begin writing their funding bills. In the interim, community colleges should meet with members while they are visiting their home districts and voice support for key community college funding priorities, including the federal Pell Grant program, the Strengthening Community College Training Grant (SCCTG) program, and the Title III-A Strengthening Institutions Program (SIP).
For more information, please visit our Budget and Appropriations page.
Short-Term Pell and Workforce Training
AACC’s Office of Government Relations (OGR) advocates for strong federal support for job training and workforce development programs at our nation’s community colleges.
The long-stymied JOBS Act was reintroduced by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Mike Braun (R-IN), taking over as the Republican lead for retired Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). The bill continues to enjoy strong bipartisan support and was reintroduced with 37 original cosponsors. The bill was reintroduced in the House by Reps. Bill Johnson (R-OH), Lisa Blunt-Rochester (D-DE), Michael Turner (R-OH), and Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ).
Another proposal, the Promoting Employment and Lifelong Learning (PELL) Act, was introduced by Ed & Workforce Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and House Republicans. The bill would expand Pell Grant eligibility to programs between 150 and 600 clock hours (same as the JOBS Act). In this proposal, eligible programs must demonstrate graduation and job placement rates of at least 70% and students who received federal financial aid must see a “positive return on investment.” This means that the program’s published tuition and fees cannot exceed the difference between the median earnings of students receiving federal financial aid and 150% of the federal poverty line. Notably, for-profit institutions would be eligible under this proposal. The bill builds on a previous proposal from last legislative session, the REAL Reforms Act.
The Jobs to Compete Act was introduced by Ed & Workforce Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) and House Democrats. The bill requires programs to demonstrate that they prepare students for “gainful employment” through earning at least more than a high school graduate and experiencing an earnings gain of at least 20%. The bill also has requirements around the stackability and transferability of credits, data transparency and career counseling, and alignment with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act eligible training provider list.
These bills show broad bipartisan interest in expanding Pell Grant eligibility to shorter-term programs and AACC will continue to work with members and committee staff to search for a viable vehicle.
For more information, please visit our Workforce Development page.
Pell Grant Tax Treatment
AACC’s Office of Government Relations (OGR) advocates for federal tax and finance policies that best serve our nation’s community colleges and the students they serve.
The Tax-Free Pell Grant Act was reintroduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Mike Kelly (R-PA), Danny K. Davis (D-IL), and Adrian Smith (R-NE) – all members of the House Committee on Ways and Means, which has jurisdiction over tax policy issues.
AACC has long supported this legislation and efforts to end the taxation of Pell Grants and help more low-income community college students take advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). Currently, Pell Grant award dollars that exceed tuition and fees are taxed as income, even though these dollars are key resources to help students afford books, transportation, and living expenses. By making Pell Grants entirely non-taxable, more low- and moderate-income students attending community colleges will receive their entire Pell Grant amount. Similarly, community college students who receive a Pell Grant are commonly denied access to the $2,500 AOTC because the grant is counted against a student’s eligibility.
For more information, please visit our Tax Policy page.
Higher Education and Student Aid
AACC advocates for strong federal investment in student and institutional aid and for Higher Education Act (HEA) policies that best serve our nation’s community colleges and their students.
Republicans and Democrats in both the Senate and House have introduced legislative proposals with the stated goals of lowering college costs, reducing student debt, and promoting repayment. These proposals include:
- The Lowering Education Costs and Debt Act:A package of five bills stitched into one and introduced by Senate Republicans, led by Senate HELP Committee ranking member Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana). The package includes the Cassidy’s College Transparency Act – a longtime AACC priority – along with proposals to standardize financial aid award letters, bolster loan counseling, streamline repayment options, create a new earnings standard that undergraduate and graduate programs would have to meet to retain Title IV eligibility, and limit the Education Secretary’s authority to make changes to the student loan program.
- The Federal Assistance to Initiate Repayment (FAIR) Act:Introduced by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina), chair of the House Committee on Education & The Workforce, the bill streamlines repayment options and creates new communications requirements for the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to make to borrowers and servicers to facilitate repayment.
- The College for All Act:Introduced in the Senate by HELP Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and the House by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), the bill creates a national free public college program for all students attending community colleges and most students attending public four-year institutions through a federal-state partnership, authorizes a new competitive grant program to boost retention and completion for institutions participating in the free college program, doubles the federal Pell Grant and dramatically increases funding for TRIO, GEAR UP and minority-serving institutions.
Despite the flurry of activity, a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) in the current Congress remains extremely unlikely. However, these bills stake out approaches to promoting college affordability from the most important players in the space. They could serve as jumping-off points for substantive reauthorization negotiations in the future.
For more information, please visit our Higher Education and Student Aid page.
AACC represents our nation’s community colleges and their students as federal agencies propose and consider new regulations, rules, and guidance.
Last month, ED released a new slate of Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NRPM), following last year’s negotiating rulemaking sessions. The proposed regulations cover ability-to-benefit, administrative capability, certification procedures, and the highly-anticipated return of gainful employment (GE) – key rules governing federal student aid eligibility for Title-IV eligible programs.
AACC filed extensive comments on the proposed regulations, highlighting the importance of clarity, workability, and burden reduction for colleges. Among other things, AACC provided feedback on the proposed GE regulations, supporting certain aspects of the proposal but raising concern about the new earnings premium (EP) metric and the new supplementary performance measures. ED plans to issue final regulations by November 1 and for new rules to go into effect by July 1, 2024.
On July 3, the Department of Education began officially accepting applications to participate in the Prison Education Program (PEP), which provides Pell Grants to incarcerated students participating in approved higher education programs offered in prison.
For more information, please visit our Regulatory Actions page.
AACC advocates for a broad range of priorities that impact community colleges and the students they serve, including those that fall outside of our other listed categories.
Congress is in the process of reauthorizing the Farm Bill, the legislation governing Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs. The current Farm Bill expires in September of 2023. The Senate and House Agriculture committees have pursued an aggressive timeline for reauthorizing the bill, starting with listening sessions with communities, a series of hearings on current Farm Bill titles, and soliciting stakeholder feedback. However, lawmakers will likely extend the current Farm Bill through a continuing resolution (CR), while House policymakers present partisan “marker” bills and the Senate crafts a more politically realistic, bipartisan proposal that could be signed by the end of the year.
Community colleges have much to gain through the Farm Bill reauthorization. While universities have been tightly stitched into USDA research and workforce development activities for decades, community colleges have not been significantly supported — despite the fact that community colleges play an extensive role in supporting agricultural activity. AACC is strongly advocating for changes to the Farm Bill to support community colleges and our students, including:
- Strengthening program completion for SNAP E&T participants: Under current program administration, community colleges are key third-party providers for SNAP Education & Training (E&T) sites, but the impact of training could be strengthened by increasing grants to launch and scale effective E&T programs and ensuring that individuals participating in an E&T program do not lose access to SNAP mid-program because their earnings increase with skill development.
- Expanding SNAP eligibility and uptake for community college students: Many community college students are currently eligible for SNAP, but the student eligibility requirements are so complicated that is depresses uptake of these important benefits. Simplifying and expanding student eligibility will support students’ basic needs and furthers the SNAP program’s goal of matching individuals with opportunities that lead to self-sufficiency, economic security, and workforce and community development.
- Supporting community college agriculture programs: The bicameral, bipartisan Community College Agriculture Advancement Actauthorizes $20 million for new USDA capacity-building grants for agriculture, agrobusiness and renewable resources programs. The bill represents a major step forward in acknowledging the role of community colleges in building the agriculture workforce, and AACC hopes to see its inclusion in the next Farm Bill.
As Congress works to draft the Farm Bill over the next few months, members in the House and Senate will continue to introduce legislation that they hope to see included in the final package. There is new attention on the role of community colleges in the Farm Bill’s workforce development goals, and AACC is eager to work with policymakers to secure appropriate funding and support for the needs and potential of our programs and students.
For more information, please visit our Other page.