I want to offer a bit of hope for what the next few months might bring, and to ask for your help in our national campaign for a New Deal for Higher Education.
In early August, the US Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure package, and they just introduced the bill that will make President Biden’s American Families Plan a reality. What’s in the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act? For higher ed, free community college would be the biggest investment in our colleges in decades—and give us a framework to build up to free college for all and our larger vision for a real New Deal. Beyond that federal-state partnership (which requires states to invest in all public institutions), there is dedicated funding for minority-serving institutions, an annual bump to the maximum Pell award, and grants to support student success at public institutions. All told, there’s $111 billion in funding for higher ed.
The House has finalized its edits to the bill, and we’re hearing that a vote may happen by the end of the month. Can you tell your Representative and Senator to support the Build Back Better Act?
Over the past year and a half, we’ve seen COVID-19 rip holes in institutional budgets. Despite some welcome assistance from Congress in the CARES Act and other coronavirus response bills, it hasn’t been enough to prevent widespread layoffs, reduced student services, and even the closure of academic programs. The Build Back Better Act’s federal-state partnership will help fix long standing funding issues—especially in the trend of state and federal disinvestment that has starved our colleges of resources.
Because this bill needs to pass the Senate on a simple majority through the budget reconciliation process, there are limitations to what we can get in it. Increasing grant funding to states, students, and institutions is doable, but creating new policies (especially unfunded mandates) like a shift towards more tenure-track instruction are not through budget reconciliation. The Build Back Better Act gives us a down payment toward a New Deal level of investment, while we continue to fight to reform higher ed labor and expand free tuition to more types of colleges.
As Congress moves towards a vote on this historic bill, we need to urge it to pass the $3.5 trillion proposal, and not to cut higher ed funding to appease moderate senators, who want to see a much smaller price tag on this bill. We must tell our members of Congress to vote yes—and to support our calls for further action to protect faculty. A first step towards that in this bill is to allow funds to be used to “invest in and diversify the academic workforce.”
Email your Representative and Senator today in support of the Build Back Better Actand beyond that, ask them to make sure that federal funds can be used to improve faculty job security and to invest in the academic workforce. Click through to submit a letter (which you can customize).
Thanks for taking action on this critical campaign!
Kaitlyn Vitez, AAUP Government Relations