Free community college is missing from the proposed new $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act, but the measure still provides significant help for adult students and the colleges that help them learn and earn.
Importantly, the bill’s current version still includes much-needed community college investments that could help hundreds of thousands of adult students— including people of color who face tough barriers to education — get the skills and credentials they need to thrive in today’s economy.
Among the highlights:
- The bill offers $6 billion in new federal funding for partnerships between community colleges and businesses. These funds would help these colleges create or expand high-quality workforce training programs with local industries while also aiding students who struggle to make ends meet. Schools would also build connections between short-term workforce credentials and degrees, so adult learners don’t have to choose between an immediate payoff and future goals. These are all lessons learned under a similar federal investment by the Obama administration that led to more than 350,000 adults gaining workforce credentials.
- The bill also provides billions of dollars in new funding for job training under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. WIOA dollars will help pay tuition, fees, and other costs for adults enrolling in community college or workforce programs. If coupled with other state training dollars and support from the partnerships described above, we could see a game-changing moment where job-seekers get valuable training while employers, both large and small, fill pressing workforce needs.
These opportunities for partnerships and funding for job training won’t happen overnight, or without our help. It will take all of us — government leaders, educators, employers, and advocates — to speed progress. We need to ensure that training dollars are coordinated, spent wisely, and lead to skills that employers value. High-quality training programs often result in good jobs that pay a living wage that support families and offer pathways to advancement.
Most importantly, we’ll need to ensure that adult learners — including those often left behind due to their race, ethnicity, or income — have easy access to training and support services. And that employer partners are committed to equitable hiring and promotion practices.
At Lumina Foundation, we are doing our part. We’re investing in a number of innovative projects to strengthen community colleges. In one program, Chambers of Commerce will partner with community colleges to increase the number of adult learners of color with high-quality, short-term degrees and credentials. You can learn about ACCE’s “equitable credential attainment cohort” request for proposals.
But we must do more to meet these urgent needs. It’s up to us to improve lives through the power of learning. This bill, if it passes, would give us a running start.