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American Families Plan invests in education, may help community college students

(Vaibhavi Patankar/Daily Bruin)

By Rania Soetirto

June 6, 2021 10:22 p.m.

UCLA transfer students and faculty said they welcomed President Joe Biden’s proposed American Families Plan, which would invest more heavily in community colleges and financial aid.

On April 28, the White House announced the American Families Plan, which calls for the investment of $109 billion for two years of free community college, $85 billion in Pell Grants and $46 billion in historically Black colleges and universities.

The plan is part of Biden’s goal to build a stronger post-pandemic economy and increase equity and racial justice within American communities, which includes a total of $1.8 trillion in investments and tax credits for American families and children.

One of the plan’s proposals enables first-time students, workers who want to upskill and young immigrants under the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act to enroll in two years of community college without cost.

Lorena Guillén, an assistant professor of education, said it is nice there is a guarantee of financial support from the American Families Plan for community college students to finish their educations. Due to a variety of circumstances, including having to work a full-time job, students in community colleges face lower graduation rates, she said.

According to a National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report, the six-year completion rate in two-year colleges dropped 0.5% in 2020. The rate of private nonprofit four-year institutions and public four-year colleges increased by 0.2% and 0.7%, respectively.

The American Families Plan would provide the money needed to increase retention rates and help students obtain their degrees, Guillén added.

Nadine Quinonez, a third-year pre-psychology transfer student from Pasadena City College, said the transfer community is a diverse space that houses many nontraditional students. Many transfer students are parents, foster youth, undocumented and formerly incarcerated students – populations that have historically faced many educational challenges, she added.

Quinonez, who is also a single mother and co-chair of the Transfer Leadership Coalition, said the American Families Plan, if passed, would help many students finish community college and transfer to four-year universities without the additional financial stressors that might push them to drop out.

“I know that there’s many transfer students who work either part time or full time or have several jobs in order to pay for college,” Quinonez said. “So I think (the American Families Plan) would help them just stay focused on school.”

Britt Samaras, a third-year labor studies transfer student from Palomar College, said the plan would help transfer students attend four-year universities without concerns about student loans.

Samaras, who is a single mother of four children, said being a student with dependents and having to support herself financially produced more challenges for her compared to more traditional students.

Transfer students often feel like they have to hit the ground running after they transfer because they have less time at a four-year university, she added.

Katie Chan, a former transfer student from East Los Angeles College and UCLA alumna, said the current U.S. education system has many flaws, as it expects students to pay large amounts of money for an education.

Although she had hoped the plan would also extend toward making four-year universities free of cost, Chan said she thinks the proposed American Families Plan is heading toward a positive direction and would improve the U.S. education system.

According to U.S. News and World Report, average tuition and fees at ranked private colleges cost $35,087 while out-of-state and in-state public institutions cost $21,184 and $9,687, respectively.

“It’s just crazy how we have to pay so much for university, hence why a lot of transfer students, like myself, I decided to go attend community college to save a lot of money,” said Chan. “Otherwise, I would have been in greater debt if I went as (a freshman) to UCLA.”

Chan said the plan could also help alleviate the societal and generational stigma of attending community college and open opportunities for lower-middle-class families who are not eligible for financial aid to attend college.

She added that she hopes Biden will continue to push the plan through Congress instead of merely announcing it as a political move.

Dick Anderson, a political science professor, said in an emailed statement that if the American Families Plan passes with its initial proposal of subsidizing tuition for families with an annual income of less than $125,000, then more students at UCLA would be eligible for fee offsets. He added that the plan would also help parents earn more because of its proposal to subsidize child care, meaning more parents would be able to help their children earn a higher education.

“The plan is a comprehensive effort to address some fundamental injustices in American society – not to correct them but at least to mitigate them around the edges,” Anderson said.

Anderson added that he expects the American Families Plan to garner fierce Republican opposition since funding for the bill would come from tax increases on corporations and families with incomes above $400,000. Anderson said even with potential opposition, Democrats can still invoke the reconciliation procedure to pass this plan.

Despite its ambitious numbers, Guillén said the American Families Plan is sustainable. The U.S. invests much more money in other sectors, such as defense, compared to education. If the country is able to reprioritize more toward education, then there is a possibility to organize the money for the American Families Plan, she said.

Nonetheless, transfer students, like Samara, are hopeful that the proposed plan, if passed, would help future transfer students.

“I am hopeful that (the American Families Plan) will greatly impact new transfers,” Samara said. “I want people who come after me to not have quite a difficult time.”

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