At RAMC, we believe affordable community college should be an option for all Americans. Therefore, we focus our Washington, D.C. advocacy efforts on programs that reduce the economic stress of tuition and student fees, thereby creating more opportunities for working-class students. Two of our top priorities are encouraging congress to expand the Pell Grant program, and to educate both politicians and the public on the critical connection between community college and a strong middle class.
The Pell Grant program is key to college affordability. However, the program needs to be modernized to better serve the needs of today’s students. RAMC members understand the fiscal challenges facing this program and want to work with Congress to keep Pell Grants on strong fiscal footing based on these principles:
- Maintain access. For community college students, particularly those from lower and middle-income families, access to a Pell Grant is often a “make or break” part of the decision to go to college.
- Restore Year-Round (Summer) Pell. Congress cut short the very promising Summer Pell program several years ago due to budget pressures on the Pell Grant program. Restoring Summer Pell would provide additional aid in order for allow students to more quickly complete their credential or degree.
- Incentivize success, but not at the expense of access. College completion is an important goal, however, efforts to improve success and completion might have the unintended consequence of reducing access for lower and middle income students to an affordable college education. We support only new funding for federal programs – particularly Pell Grants — being tied to success metrics.
- The Pell Grant program must not forget the needs of non-traditional students who attend school part-time. More than 40 percent of all college students attend a community college, and significant numbers of these students have jobs and families, which often means their only option is to attend school part-time or in the summer. RAMC supports maintaining access to Pell Grants for part-time students, and was a leading advocate for continued funding of the part-time Pell program, in order to increase completion rates among these populations.
America’s College Promise
RAMC members are working hard to ensure that the American public–especially the working class–is fully aware of the benefits, opportunities, and affordability of attending a community college. We are working closely in a variety of ways with policymakers and other leaders at the federal, state, and local levels to stress the wealth of opportunities community colleges provide to their students and the benefits our schools provide to local communities. Particularly for students from middle-income families, we want emphasize how community colleges can provide critical career opportunities at a cost that is unmatched anywhere else in the higher education sector.
In Washington, we have worked closely with the White House and Congress on legislation like “The America’s College Promise Act of 2015,” a bill introduced in the House and Senate to provide a federal match of $3 for every $1 invested by the state to waive community college tuition and fees for eligible students before other financial aid is applied; ensure that programs offer academic credits which are fully transferable to four-year institutions in their state, or occupational training that leads to credentials in an in-demand industry; and maintain and encourage state funding for higher education. In addition, as outlined above, we are working closely to see that summer Pell is fully-funded, in order to ensure that even more students have the ability to benefit from a community college education.
Legislation like this could have a major impact on an untold number of higher education students. Beyond waiting for this bill to be voted into law, RAMC has taken proactive measures to support America’s College Promise, and to see that costs do not serve as a barrier from students attending our community colleges.
As America’s College Promise continues to be debated in Washington, DC, members of Rebuilding America’s Middle Class are acting on a local and regional basis to fulfill the promise in their own backyard.
The Lone Star College Promise, for instance, is a scholarship and civic engagement program that provides two years of “last-dollar scholarship” for a college education at any Lone Star College location in the Houston, Texas area. Learn more here and read coverage of Lone Star’s new program: LSCS starting Promise program with $1,000 scholarships (The Courier of Montgomery County); StarGala 2016 to support Lone Star College Promise Scholarship (The Tribune, Texas).
Additionally, Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wisconsin offers its own version of America’s College Promise, through an initiative announced in January 2016 called the Madison Promise. Following are links to local market coverage of this exciting new program:
‘Promise’ program aims to cover tuition costs for some MATC students (Wisconsin State Journal)
New initiative to cover college cost for low-income students (WISC-TV and FOX 47 )
MATC is right, we have to do something about college affordability (WISC-TV Editorial)
MATC to offer two years of free tuition (In Business Magazine)