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community college

Biden budget proposal calls for tuition-free community college and pre-K programs

July 16, 2021
Officials say increasing access to community college and preschool will help close achievement shortfalls among low-income and minority students.

The Biden Administration's $3.5 trillion budget proposal includes initiatives to offer prekindergarten enrollment for every 3- and 4-year-old in the nation, and tuition-free community college to every young adult.

The New York Times reports that the proposals are drawing widespread support from Democrats and are expected to remain priorities as the party’s top leaders seek to enact the economic plan.

“Infrastructure’s about roads and bridges, but it’s about the other things we need to have a fully engaged and active work force,” says U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. “That means child care for parents. It means early childhood education, giving our kids the right start. And that means post-high school education or training. That’s what it’s going to take in the 21st century.”

Details of what the proposals will contain have not been disclosed, and the overall spending figure could shrink. But plans for universal pre-K and community college outlined in Biden's American Families Plan call for $109 billion to pay for two years of tuition-free community college for all.

It also proposed $200 billion to pay for free pre-K programs. Evidence has grown for decades that unequal access creates achievement gaps among children before they reach kindergarten.

Community college enrollment fell by about 10% from 2019 to 2020. The steepest declines occurred among Black and Latino students, according to the National Student Clearinghouse

More than 15 states already offer some form of free community college, generally targeted to low-income students. 

Preschool enrollment declined by nearly 25% over the past year. As of December, about half of 4-year-olds and 40% of 3-year-olds were attending pre-K, either in person or virtually.

Expanding free early childhood education could lead to greater earnings, higher levels of education and lower levels of participation in crime, according to research from James J. Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago.

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