Democrats’ Free Tuition Plan Could Save Community Colleges at a Critical Time

Democrats, following the lead of President Joe Biden, are planning to include free community college in a massive spending plan that party leaders are hoping to pass by the end of the month -- and such a major federal investment could provide a much-needed jolt to the nation's two-year colleges after they saw a huge drop in enrollment due to the pandemic.

Enrollment at community colleges fell nearly 10%, or by 476,000 fewer students, last spring compared to the year before. The Covid pandemic disproportionately affected typical community college students -- parents, first-generation and lower-income students who hold jobs in addition to taking classes.

In previous economic downturns, more people went to community college seeking better job opportunities and enrollment peaked after the Great Recession. But this time, juggling childcare, remote learning challenges and the shifting restrictions on businesses in food and hospitality industries created too many hurdles.

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