Chair DeLauro Statement at the Building Capacity, Building Community: Increasing Investments in Community Colleges Hearing

2021-04-20 10:13

House Appropriations Committee Chair and Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) delivered the following remarks at the subcommittee's hearing on Building Capacity, Building Community: Increasing Investments in Community Colleges​:

As we celebrate Community College Month, it is especially important for us to recognize how community colleges foster an educated populace and a highly skilled workforce, and how they make college more affordable and more accessible for more Americans. Not everyone needs a four-year degree, but everyone does need the education necessary to find good-paying jobs that provide economic security for themselves and their families. And, compared to traditional four-year colleges, community colleges provide a more cost-effective approach to education.

Community colleges educate 41 percent of all undergraduate students in this nation and their student body is also often more diverse, providing pathways to opportunity for traditionally underserved communities. Nationally, 27 percent of community college students identify as Hispanic, 13 percent identify as African Americans, 6 percent identify as Asian/Pacific Islanders. Fifty seven percent of community college students are women, while 15 percent of community college students are single parents, and 29 percent are first-generation students.

Community colleges serve a broad array of students when considering age as well. The average age of community college students is 28, including 36 percent between the ages of 22-39, and 8 percent over the age of 40. The majority of community college students also work while pursuing their credentials, and 33 percent receive Pell Grants.

While federal funding makes up only 11 percent of community college revenue, these institutions rely on the programs and funding under the Labor-H bill (Pell Grants; Work-Study; Perkins CTE, Adult Education, Apprenticeship Grants; Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Grants; and the list goes on).

From 2011 through 2014, we invested a total of $2 billion in community colleges through the Trade Adjustment Assistance and Community College and Career Training grant program (TAACCCT, or “Tact” program). These grants helped community colleges successfully partner with expanding economic sectors in their region to ensure a skilled workforce for high-growth local and regional industries.

These investments go a long way, since community college education is drastically less expensive than a degree from a four-year college. Nationally, the average annual tuition and fees at community colleges during the 2020-2021 academic year was just $3,770 and generally anyone can enroll. By contrast the average annual tuition and fees for a four-year public college was $10,560 and the annual tuition and fees for a four-year private college was $37,650, price tags that are usually accompanied by often strict enrollment requirements. In my home state of Connecticut, for example, the average in-state community college tuition is approximately $5,329 per year, compared to the $13,000 it costs per year for a public 4-year college and the $26,847 it costs a year for a private 4-year college in Connecticut.

In my district around New Haven we have three community colleges: Gateway in New Haven (from which Dr. Brown joins us), Middlesex in Middletown, and Naugatuck Valley in Waterbury. I have worked extensively with all three colleges for years and have held my annual Congressional Arts Competition at Gateway for the past few. I have seen firsthand the wonderful impact these institutions have on the lives and futures of those they serve. And I know that as a nation we owe it to our students to provide what President Lyndon Johnson once described as “the only valid passport out of poverty.”

That is why I have made it one of my top priorities in the Congress to fight for our nation’s community colleges and get them the robust funding and federal support that they need. In fiscal year 2016, I worked to establish the Apprenticeships Grants program which helps connect businesses to workers with the skills necessary to fill jobs in a variety of industries. And I was also proud to lead this subcommittee’s efforts to create the Strengthening Community College Training Grant program to support workforce development at community colleges. We started the program two years ago and expanded it last year to $45 million, an increase of $5 million above its initial year funding level.

But despite the success of these and other programs, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on our nation’s community colleges and the students that they serve. Most students who attend community college do not have reliable computer equipment of their own or access to the internet. These students often rely on their college’s computer labs for access to technology, which made telecommuting or working remotely all but impossible in many cases. Moreover, many community college students who were working their way through college either lost their jobs, had their hours or incomes reduced, or found themselves working on the front lines of the pandemic, putting themselves, their families, and their fellow students at risk. Already existing challenges like food insecurity, inadequate access to transportation, and a dearth of mental health services have only been further exacerbated by this pandemic and have often hit those who attend community colleges the hardest.

Since the beginning of this pandemic enrollment in community colleges has declined by 10 percent in the fall of 2020 and early estimates for the 2021 spring term indicate enrollments will decline by another 9.5 percent. This decrease in enrollment has been much more pronounced for community colleges than other higher education institutions.

This is all the more reason why community colleges need our help. We need to provide more than just increased funding for these crucial institutions. We must drill down into where exactly is the greatest need and work to identify the programs, practices, and solutions that need the most support. This includes working to foster better partnerships between community colleges and businesses in emerging industries and providing more resources to greatly expand and increase registered apprenticeship programs. This means more coordination between federal programs and grants with these institutions and providing more wraparound services that are needed by many nontraditional students. Finally, it means supporting students in navigating various postsecondary programs and credentials.

The Biden administration has proposed making historic investments in our nation’s community colleges to provide cost-effective job training to workers dislocated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to equip future students with technical and occupational skills to succeed in the evolving labor market.

So, as we write fiscal year 2022 appropriations bills, we must take stock of the strengths and challenges of community colleges and the potential they have to help develop our nation’s workforce and revitalize our economy in the wake of this pandemic. We must invest in these institutions and build the architecture of the future at the federal as well as local levels. Our community colleges are the backbone of our education system. And it is crucial that we provide our community colleges and their students with the funding and resources needed to build a brighter and more prosperous future for all Americans.

117th Congress