The 2017 Community College National Legislative Summit Begins With Calls for Continued Advocacy
ACCT Congressional Forum Highlights Bipartisan Support for Community Colleges
Congressional leaders in education and workforce issues offered bipartisan agreement on support for community colleges when they spoke to at ACCT’s 2017 Congressional Forum Wednesday.
“This should be an extraordinary time of opportunity,” said Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.) “What you’re going to see from policymakers is an effort on encouraging innovation.” Messer cited reverse transfer, partnerships with industry, and the use of Pell Grants for shorter job-training programs as examples of community college programs likely to receive support from lawmakers.
Pointing to apprenticeships and other job-training programs offered by community colleges, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) signaled bipartisan support for the Pell Grant program, despite the current climate in Washington. “There’s always going to be a certain amount of gridlock, but when that partisanship leads to paralysis, we’re going to have problems,” he said.
Democratic speakers spoke to continuing Obama-era efforts to make community college free for qualified students. Citing the lack of a skilled workforce as the biggest challenge to global competitiveness, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) discussed college promise programs, as well as a proposed grant program that would support job-training partnerships with industry.
“I think this is a great solution to the skills gap,” Duckworth said. “It allows community colleges to further strengthen themselves and expand their services, but also expand our national competitiveness.”
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) noted that the America College Promise program would cost $100 billion—an amount that pales in comparison to multi-trillion dollar tax cuts enacted by Congress in recent years. “Make no mistake, this will cost money—money that some say we can’t afford,” Scott said. “It’s just a matter of priorities… We can do all these things, we just have to have the courage to do them.”
Despite partisan rancor, Scott predicted that Congress would ultimately succeed in reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. “I am optimistic we can come together as HEA reauthorization approaches,” he told Forum attendees. “It will be important for your institutions to engage both sides of the aisle so we continue to support community colleges.”
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) echoed the bipartisan support community colleges enjoy, noting the impact they have had on the automotive industry in South Carolina. He predicted that the House Committee for Education and the Workforce, led by former community college president Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) will continue efforts to scale back the federal government’s role in higher education. “However we can promote local flexibility and control, we will,” Wilson said.