As lawmakers focus attention on infrastructure, much of the conversation centers on reducing dependence on cars. But what about people with no choice? Today 99% of community college students go to campus – and a significant number of community colleges are not accessible by public transport.
The Biden administration calls for bold investments in community and technical colleges. Recent proposals include a $ 62 billion grant fund to support proven strategies for student success, $ 12 billion for campus improvement and $ 109 billion for two years of free community college tuition. Community and technical colleges make up 36% of students – for the students who can get there. To be successful, the community college administration program must include automotive access and affordability.
Proposal Biden Free Community College Plan covers two years of community college tuition, allowing students to use federal grants and federal loans to cover living expenses. When a college is not accessible by public transit – which is the status quo 37 percent community and technical colleges – students should be able to use federal financial aid for the purchase of a car. It sounds intuitive, but in fact it’s illegal.
Currently, students are not allowed at purchase a vehicle with federal financial assistance funds. Many financial advice blogs warn against disastrous consequences students who choose to use their financial aid to to buy a car, including the revocation of student aid and a possible prison sentence. While these disturbing results are unlikely in practice, federal policy is currently not designed to help students who need a car to get to campus.
The good news is that the Biden administration can take significant steps to ensure that community college students can get to campus – without a commitment from Congress. Currently, higher education institutions are prohibited from including the cost of purchasing a vehicle in their tuition fees (COA). This number is the price of a college’s “all-inclusive” sticker and one of the most critical aspects of a student’s financial aid program. The Ministry of Education (ED) has the authority to authorize the purchase of cars as part of the students’ COA.
Here’s how it would work: The DE can establish a “car” as an authorized category of COA for suburban school students. Another option would be to grant schools permission to use their professional judgment to adjust the COA to allow a student to purchase a vehicle. For a student from a given institution, this school COA is a critical number, because it also represents the maximum limit of the grant and aid to a student Can accept to attend a school and the limit for how much a student can borrow from the federal government to support their education. Presidents of community colleges often observe that their students are “a flat tire to drop out.” With food and housing insecurity among community college students now in the double digits, few students have the money available to deal with this flat tire.
Traditional infrastructure expansion alone will not solve the accessibility of public transportation for community college students. Our foundation Analysis shows that at least 18 percent community and technical schools are too far from existing public transport systems to be feasible for investment. Broadband expansion, while critical to student success, will not completely address this gap; we saw how online learning is not for everyone. Additionally, community and technical colleges offer hands-on training for jobs like nursing, welding, or industrial repair jobs, teaching workforce skills that require students to be physically on site.
The Biden administration recently highlighted that 40% of Americans do not have access to affordable public transportation. There is no doubt that community college students live in this inequitable reality; in fact, the current federal financial assistance policy exacerbates this gap.
We can’t write off potential students just because they can’t afford a car. And, directing students to expensive private auto loans by pretending cars aren’t a school-related expense doesn’t seem particularly safe, either. The Biden administration has an easy opportunity to ensure that all students can get to campus. The DE can act on this simple solution today.
Abigail Seldin is the CEO and co-founder of the Seldin / Haring-Smith Foundation.