The long-awaited Biden plan for higher education funding was announced during his Presidential Address on April 28, 2021. The plan included free community college and targeted funding to support marginalized groups attend and succeed in higher education. However, Biden resisted calls to forgive college loan debt, which some believe is essential if wealth inequality is to be addressed. The focus on increasing success rates is a particularly important aspect of the funding plan, although some students may benefit from extended time and may not even complete their degrees. To accompany this long-term strategy, the Education Department issued a "Reopening Resource Site" to help institutions mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and get back to full operation.
The House Appropriations Committee moved ahead with a funding proposal that builds on Biden's original ideas and adds more funding. Seven appropriations bills totaling $272 million provided earmark funding that will benefit 228 institutions. The proposal will inevitably be modified as it moves forward but higher education officials are hopeful that increased funding will be the result.
The move to support community colleges, many expanding from 2-year to 4-year degrees, and expand opportunity for marginalized populations makes sense in the context of declining enrollments in community colleges across the U.S.A. Community college leadership welcomed the Biden focus on community colleges in the American Families Plan. Martha Parham, Senior Vice President of Public Relations for the American Association of Community Colleges, said that Biden's American Families Plan is "removing barriers to completion, and access and completion is what drives enrollment. So eliminating and eradicating those barriers to attendance and completion, I think, are going to be vital supports for regaining enrollment."
With Biden pushing for broad higher education funding, and the Department of Education having determined how $36 billion of pandemic support will be spent, congressional leaders pushed for greater transparency about the costs of attendance. Access and retention are both impacted by the perception of cost so transparency is an important part of the puzzle of expanding higher education opportunity.
U.S.A. federal agencies also began to craft policies to encourage international students to return for study. Measures include relaxed travel restrictions as well as expedited visa approval processing. The Trump era proposal to limit the duration of international student visas was also withdrawn by the Biden administration, confirming the broad condemnation of the Trump proposal.
The U.S.A. higher education system has to function at all levels in order to meet basic workforce demands as well as feed the research and innovation that has helped it prosper. And the higher education system has to be financially and logistically available to all citizens, regardless of age, socio-economic status, culture, or other distinction.