GCC president, legislators respond to Biden’s free community college plan


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  • Students leave Greenfield Community College’s main campus in March 2020.President Joe Biden has proposed $109 billion for two years of free community college Staff File Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 4/30/2021 4:55:21 PM

GREENFIELD — Greenfield Community College President Yves Salomon-Fernández says it’s great to have a United States president who values higher education and wants to keep the country competitive on the global stage.

“What is most heartening about the Biden proposal is that it focuses on making community college affordable to students while also providing for infrastructure cost for colleges, and it addresses issues like child care and increases in Pell funding that are so critical to student success,” Salomon-Fernández said after President Joe Biden proposed $109 billion for two years of free community college so that “every student has the ability to obtain a degree or certificate.” Dreamer students would also be included in the proposal, if it is approved by Congress.

“President Biden understands that shoring up our country’s middle class starts with providing folks with access to higher education and skill training,” Salomon-Fernández continued. “That is how we build a vibrant and inclusive economy.”

GCC’s president said she’d like to remind people that community colleges serve the most economically insecure and the most diverse students in our country.

“This proposal is good for urban, suburban and rural regions alike,” she said.

On Wednesday, as part of his American Families Plan, Biden proposed: $109 billion for two-year colleges; $80 billion for the Pell Grant Program to increase the maximum grant by $1,400; $62 billion for retention and completion efforts at colleges and universities that serve high numbers of low-income students, particularly community colleges; and $39 billion to provide tuition subsidies for students from families earning less than $125,000 and enrolled in four-year colleges. It would also double scholarships for aspiring teachers from $4,000 to $8,000 per year.

Local legislators respond

Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, said she has filed bills specific to Massachusetts that would help students by having the state reinvest in higher education.

“We need to break down the barriers to access to college,” Comerford said. “We make it too difficult for students to enter college, to take that leap. We need to be able to tell them, ‘Yes, welcome to GCC or HCC.’ That would be free in the Biden world. We need to uplift kids so they can say, ‘I can go to college.’ That would be breathtaking.”

Comerford said another proposed bill, which was inspired by the financial aid department at GCC, would streamline financial aid and mandate automatic enrollment.

“It’s so complicated to apply for financial aid,” she said. “I’ve been working with those folks for a number of months.”

She said she’d also like to see a correction made to an error in foster care concerning higher education and adopted foster children. She said they are entitled to a free education in Massachusetts, but currently there is a loophole — only certain courses are covered, so many foster children are coming out of college with large bills. Courses taught at night or by outside experts, for instance, are not covered.

“These bills are all part of the bigger picture, and free community college would mean investing in our future,” the senator added. “I can’t think of a better investment than education and bolstering, launching the next generation.”

Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said what Biden has proposed is a bold change needed to address structural inequity throughout the state and country. He, like Comerford, said the barriers to education access, especially for low-income individuals, need to be “cut down.”

“We need to increase the opportunity for lifelong learning and address the crisis of higher education affordability,” Hinds said.

A co-sponsor of the CHERISH Act, as is Comerford, Hinds also believes state funding for higher education needs to be increased.

“We want to promote early college for local high school students who want to attend community college,” he said. “It’s the key force for equity. This is a key moment, and we need to recognize it and take the next big steps. The bills we filed at the state level and Biden’s proposals are the types of tools we need.”

Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, said the president’s plan has great potential for revitalizing and renewing the importance of community colleges.

“As a community college graduate,” Mark said, “I know firsthand the value of these institutions and the focused, workforce-related education that is available and the opportunities an associate’s degree can open.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.


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