House Democrats propose higher education bill with free community college, more grant funding

Victoria May

U.S. House Democrats proposed a bill offering free community college and greater funding for Pell Grants last week.

If passed, the College Affordability Act would update the Higher Education Act of 1965 to allow states to offer tuition-free community college, which is not currently offered under the act. The $94 billion program would increase funding for financial aid, debt repayment and free community college.

“(This bill) is very, very important,” Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker, said in a press release. “Not only … to address the aspirations of our young people but also for the success of our country, our competitiveness globally, but also building the infrastructure of America with our own well-trained workforce.”

The bill focused on increasing federal funding for the Pell Grant, which is federal aid designed to help low-income families pay for college, and would also simplify the application process for student loans and debt repayment. 

Bobby Scott, D-VA, chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, said the proposal cuts the cost of college for students and families and provides relief for existing borrowers. He said it will also hold schools accountable and expand access to more flexible college options.


“The College Affordability Act is a proposal that Members across the political spectrum should be able to support,” Scott said in a press release. “It is a necessary and sensible response to the challenges that students and families are facing every day.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina and Rep. Lloyd Smucker of Pennsylvania said in a joint statement the bill did not address the underlying issue of “exploding college costs.” They said they wanted a
bipartisan bill that provides students with the tools they need for success in the workforce.

“By increasing burdensome requirements and bureaucratic red tape, the Democrats’ bill will contribute to rising college costs,” Foxx and Smucker said in the statement. “It is past time Congress acknowledges the status quo is failing.
Doubling down on failed policies will not help students pursue the American Dream.”

Pelosi said the bill would increase the quality of education by cracking down on colleges that have “defrauded” students. She also said the bill would focus on funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions.

“Every time we meet with students and families, we hear the same thing: college affordability in America is just inaccessible to them,” Pelosi said in a press release. “We must put an end to years of Republican inaction because we can no longer afford to do nothing when 44 million Americans are saddled with $1.5 trillion in debt.”

Cierra Rodriguez, health and society sophomore, said she believes a potential bill from Foxx and Smucker would lack federal aid needed to make “essential changes” such as free higher education and greater financial help for students.

“Being able to go to college shouldn’t be this huge privilege,” Rodriguez said. “This is something that everybody should have access to, and that’s essentially what the bill was trying to make happen.”