We Need Truly Free Community College for All: Free community college is a critical step in easing skyrocketing higher education costs.

AuthorBerryhill, Nora-Kathleen

When Joe Biden became the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020, he sat down with the runner-up, Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont, and created the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force to merge some of Sanders's most popular policy proposals into Biden's comparatively moderate platform. Co-chaired by U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, and former Secretary of State John Kerry, the task force produced 110 pages of progressive policy recommendations, ranging from establishing a $15 federal minimum wage and universal health care, to calling for better federal oversight of police and adopting a climate framework similar to Ocasio-Cortez's "Green New Deal."

Collaboration with progressives also pushed Biden to take a slightly bolder stance on the higher-education affordability crisis. As Sanders's campaign push in the 2020 primaries to cancel student debt and make public universities and colleges free was a major mobilizing force among young voters, Biden promised to cancel $10,000 of federal student loan debt per person and to make both two- and four-year public colleges and universities free for students with family incomes under $125,000.

These policies went further than some expected, but they weren't revolutionary. After all, broad bipartisan support already existed for a more expansive approach than what Biden proposed: An estimated 63 percent of Americans (and, notably, 52 percent of Republicans under fifty who have not completed a college degree) believe that public colleges and universities should be made tuition-free for all U.S. students. And advocacy groups urged President Biden to adopt a bicameral resolution by Democratic lawmakers in February 2021 to cancel $50,000 in student loans for federal borrowers.

But forget about going further; Biden has thus far failed to get even this bare minimum past the legislative stalemate caused by Senate Republicans and Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia. In a town hall discussion with CNN's Anderson Cooper last October, Biden vowed to get tuition-free community college done, adding that, "If I don't, I'll be sleeping alone for a long time"--a reference to his wife, Jill Biden, who teaches English at a community college. She's since had to eat his words for him, because later last fall, Biden caved to pressure and slashed a proposal from his Build Back Better bill that would have put $45.5 billion toward establishing tuition-free community...

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