Biden’s 2024 spending package for higher ed increases student aid, renews calls for free community college

Last week, President Biden proposed a $6.8 trillion spending plan for fiscal year 2024 that requests $90 billion in discretionary spending for the U.S. Department of Education, a $10.8 billion or 13.6% increase in enacted department funding over the current fiscal year. The plan includes a number of higher education initiatives, including a $500 million investment in tuition-free community college, a presidential campaign pledge that was cut out of the 2021 budget proposal and absent in Biden’s budget proposal last year, according to Higher Ed Dive. The 2024 proposal renews Biden’s campaign pledge through Accelerated Success: Free Community College, a grant program that would ensure eligible students can enroll in two-year, tuition-free community college programs that lead to transfers to four-year institutions or that prepare them for good-paying jobs.

Although experts say the new spending proposal has no chance of passing a divided Congress in its current form, the plan signals the White House’s higher education priorities. “We see this as a values statement,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, according to New America.

Investment in financial aid, mental health, and MSIs

Other priorities in the 2024 budget request include an $820 increase to the maximum Pell Grant award, bringing the maximum total award from its current level of $6,895 to $8,215. The administration has increased the Pell Grant by $900 in the last three years, Inside Higher Ed reports, and the new plan moves the award closer to the administration’s goal of doubling the maximum federal Pell Grant by 2029, according to Forbes.

Related: Report: Colleges increasingly unaffordable for Pell Grant recipients >

To help students from underserved communities, the budget establishes a two-year tuition subsidy of up to $4,500 per year for students from families earning less than $125,000 who enroll in historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), tribally controlled colleges and universities (TCCUs), and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs). It also asks for additional funding for under-resourced institutions, such as HBCUs, TCCUs, MSIs, and community colleges, for research and development infrastructure.

The spending plan also allocates $150 million in grants for campus-wide strategies to address student mental health needs and $30 million in new funding for programs that help provide students with basic needs such as food or housing.

The budget proposes $200 million for the Career-Connected High Schools initiative, a competitive grant program connecting high school students to community colleges and potential employers through dual enrollment, work-based learning, and career advising.

“These proposed investments would increase access to quality and affordable higher education and bolster funding for pathbreaking research that saves lives, drives innovation, and improves living standards,” Mark Becker, President of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities said in a statement, according to Inside Higher Ed. “Robust investment in a skilled workforce and scientific innovation is vital to U.S. global competitiveness.”

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