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We Cannot Build Back Better Without Free Community College

By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

The Biden administration’s most recent attempt to cut costs may be its most costly decision of all: When the administration scaled back its $3.5 trillion social safety net bill to $1.75 trillion, it dropped free community college. We are disappointed by this decision, which fetters and delays a much-needed investment that, in the long run, would promise to benefit our entire country and economy.

President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill may now only be half of its previous cost, but the administration will pay the price elsewhere. This cost will come in the form of lost talents and abilities that would have benefited our future workforce and society as a whole. Indeed, research demonstrates that access to college enables people to flourish in the job market and become more active and productive citizens more broadly. To that end, the financial barriers that prevent individuals from pursuing higher education create losses and harms that are in fact communal, even when they appear to be individual and marginal. In other words, education always pays off: It’s one of the best investments that we could possibly make.

Why else should the Biden administration work harder and faster to make higher education accessible across the board? Perhaps because of the fact that, in the United States, college tuition costs are disproportionately steep and inequitable to begin with. All that it takes is a quick internet search to see that the average cost of college tuition in the United States is among the highest worldwide. And even beyond that, our system further burdens individuals with massive student loan debts that exacerbate the problem with time. Against this backdrop, we are disheartened and fearful that, as long as the Biden administration continues to put the provision of free community college on the backburner, students will continue to be dissuaded from higher education or in financial duress because of it.

We have opined in favor of student debt relief in the past, but while necessary, this alone will not suffice to heal our ailing and inequitable higher education system. Debt relief is reactive in nature, as it benefits college graduates only after they have taken out loans and experienced financial burdens during their college years. Tuition-free community college, on the other hand, helps improve higher education accessibility in the U.S. from the outset by lowering the barrier to entry and allowing those who otherwise cannot afford higher education to enroll and obtain a degree. Tuition-free community college offers what debt relief cannot, leaving us troubled to see it cut from Biden’s current spending package.

During a recent CNN town hall, Biden made us all a promise: “I promise you — I guarantee it — we’re going to get free community college in the next several years, across the board.” We maintain hope that Biden will stay true to his word, even if this commitment is appearing increasingly fickle and distant at the moment. But in the meantime, we urge the administration to take deliberate steps to help compensate for this blunted promise, such as providing a larger increase in the Federal Pell Grants awarded to low-income undergraduate students.

We have opined on many issues related to higher education and explored what we think it ought to be. We maintain that higher education can – and should – take on many varying forms. But in all of these forms, it must be one thing: accessible.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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