U.S. Misses Billions in Gains as Free Community College Gets Ax

Free community college was among the first big proposals cut as Democrats battled to get President Joe Biden’s agenda down to size -- yet an analysis says dropping the $109 billion initiative carries a lasting economic cost.

The program, intended to address racial inequality in higher education, would have offered two years of tuition to community college students over the next five years. Proponents hoped the program would become permanent once enacted.

If implemented nationwide and expanded over a decade, free community college would have boosted real gross domestic product by roughly $170 billion per year and tax revenue by about $66 billion annually, according to an analysis done by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce at the request of Bloomberg News.

Even with the promise of long-term gains for the economy and benefits for minority and low-income students who attend community college in higher numbers, the plan fell victim to sparring over the tax-and-spending bill’s top line that eventually cut Biden’s $3.5 trillion plan in half. Lawmakers are now turning the framework unveiled on Thursday into legislation that could get a vote in coming weeks.

Democratic Representative Jimmy Gomez of California, a progressive who attended community college, said he hopes the scuttled community-college provision gets worked back in as the chambers consider the bill. Gomez, who recently met with Biden, said he’s working with fellow community-college alums in Congress.

“We’re not giving up fighting for it, even though it is a tough fight,” Gomez said in an interview.