2015 Community College Federal Legislative Priorities
114th Congress, First Session
To view additional background information on any of these issues, please click here.
To download our "Green Sheet" of the below priorities, please click here.
NOTE: This year's priorities include a separate priorities list relating specifically to President Obama's "Free Community College" proposal.
The Pell Grant Program
Community College Position: Provide adequate funding to support inflationary increases to the Pell Grant maximum award without limiting eligibility. Restore the year-round Pell Grant, reinstate full eligibility for “ability-to-benefit” students, and extend lifetime Pell eligibility to 14 full-time equivalent semesters.
- More than 3 million low- and moderate-income community college students receive Pell Grants each year. The grants reach more than one-third of all community college credit students, and help them pay for tuition, course materials, and living expenses.
Federal Funding for Community Colleges and Students
Community College Position: Provide strong funding support for key community college programs at least equal to the prior year’s funding levels, and nullify sequestration cuts for FY 2016 and beyond.
- Federal higher education and workforce training programs are essential to millions of community college students. Robust appropriations are needed for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act; Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants; Federal Work Study; Carl D. Perkins Basic State Grants; institutional aid through Strengthening Institutions, Hispanic Serving Institutions, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges, and Predominately Black Institutions; and the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education program.
Higher Education Act (HEA) Reauthorization
Community College Position: Reauthorize the Higher Education Act to support community college access and success by improving student aid programs, ensuring accurate and complete measurements of student success, reducing regulatory burdens, and improving institutional support.
Principal AACC and ACCT reauthorization priorities include:
- Loans – Revise current borrowing limits to better reflect the needs of students in associate degree and certificate programs. Replace cohort default rates with a more accurate measurement that takes into account borrower frequency. Ensure that loan defaults do not unfairly limit student aid by delinking defaults and Pell Grant eligibility. Consolidate Direct Loan repayment options.
- Transparency and Reporting – Develop accountability measurements that accurately reflect community college student success, including transfer rates. Create a national unit record data system to effectively track students.
- Additional Priorities – Ensure maintenance of adequate state funding. Allow student to access Title IV for workforce -oriented short-term programs. Reduce regulatory burdens on campuses.
Reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act
Community College Position: Reauthorize the Perkins Act to maintain program flexibility, allowing community colleges to address local needs while strengthening CTE programs.
- The reauthorization should enhance student pathways that promote college and career readiness, and strengthen ties between community colleges and local businesses. Reforms must also reflect current educational practices, including: dual enrollment; work experiences; integrated delivery of basic skills; and stackable postsecondary credentials. Align reporting requirements for Perkins, WIOA, and other programs.
Community Colleges and Veteran Students
Community College Position: Enhance the essential role community college’s play in serving veterans and active duty service members.
- Veterans and active duty service members should receive comprehensive counseling and services, as well as accurate and useful information about all educational options. The HEA’s Centers of Excellence for Veterans Success program must be adequately funded.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act
Community College Position: Pass the DREAM Act, including access to federal student aid for DREAMers.
- The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act provides a path to legal status for thousands of undocumented students who were brought to the U.S. as children, worked their way through high school, and then face an uncertain future regarding higher education. The DREAM Act returns to states the authority to decide whether or not to extend in-state tuition to undocumented students.
Higher Education Tax Provisions
Community College Position: Streamline current higher education tax benefits to support an expanded American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC).
The current array of higher education tax benefits are overly complex and lead to widespread underutilization. Community colleges support:
- Streamlining current benefits to support a more generous and permanent AOTC
- Increasing refundability
- Creating better alignment with the Pell Grant program to ensure the neediest students benefit from the AOTC.
Extend the TAACCCT Program
Community College Position: Authorize and fund a program to continue the mission of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act Community College and Career Training Grant (TAACCCT) program.
- Following four years of competitive grant awards, the $2 billion TAACCCT grant program expired in 2014. The program delivered high quality, relevant training to TAA-eligible and other workers, and encouraged new program delivery. Funding has helped generate cooperative agreements between a wide range of institutions and business. Congress should pass legislation to continue the goals of TAACCCT.
Federal Support for Community College Tuition
Community colleges support the core principles of President Obama’s America’s College Promise proposal because it stands to increase community college student access and success, which would have substantial economic and social benefits for our nation. Despite relatively low tuitions, financial obstacles continue to present significant barriers to degree attainment. Approximately one-third of all community college students work full-time in order to generate the financial resources necessary to attend school, as well as support themselves and often their families.
Enactment of a proposal to dramatically lower or eliminate community college tuition will also encourage students who otherwise would not enroll in community college, or any college, to aspire to do so. Establishing this program could ultimately make college as accessible as high school.
The resources proposed for the program are proportionate to its potential impact and current federal education expenditures. On average, the program would represent less than 10% of the annual budget of the Department of Education (ED), which comprises less than 3% of all annual federal expenditures. Making community college education significantly more affordable is an appropriate federal priority, and consistent with the existing federal student aid programs.
Congress should constructively engage in a conversation regarding the President’s proposal, and the role of community colleges in supporting educational attainment. Community college students need and deserve further support. The President’s proposal is complex and far-reaching, and many of its details have not been released, but there are many avenues to achieving its goals.
In order for any program of this nature to be effective, legislation should have the following characteristics:
- Financing must be realistic and reliable. The program cannot succeed if its resources are subject to significant fluctuation. Stable federal financing also will be necessary to draw state partners.
- Program eligibility/participation must also be stable. In the absence of this predictability, students and institutions will not be able to adequately plan for their education.
- As proposed by the President, the program must be “first dollar,” reducing tuition and allowing students to use federal student financial aid and other student aid to cover the costs of books, supplies, equipment, and transportation.
- Clear standards for program eligibility are essential. The legislation should include accurate measurements of community college performance, which currently are lacking in federal law, and ensure that these are also incorporated into the Higher Education Act.
- Some portion of program funds must be made available to colleges to provide services to help students succeed. This includes academic counseling and support.
- States must be required to maintain current levels of funding support for higher education and student financial aid programs.
- Current standards of satisfactory academic progress should be applied to the program to establish consistency for students and program administrators.