We're Not Getting Free Community College
Newsweek|November 26, 2021
Here’s how to support workers equitably
ANGELA JACKSON and RACHEL LIPSON

PRESIDENT BIDEN RECENTLY announced that after negotiations with moderate Democrats, his Build Back Better Act would no longer include 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave and free community college. While this was disappointing, all hope is not lost for workers; the new plan still includes $40 billion to make higher education and training more affordable, including expanded Pell Grants and critical investments in skills-based training, support services and America’s workforce development infrastructure.

These investments will have a sizable impact, especially if educational institutions and training providers remember workers of color and others who are too often left behind.

America needs this focus urgently. A recent analysis of enrollment data from 40 states found that Black and Latinx students were more likely to wind up in programs oriented toward lower-paying fields like hospitality, whereas white students were more likely to enroll in STEM and IT. Black Americans also remain underrepresented in registered apprenticeship programs, traditionally one of the most proven pathways to good-paying jobs without a college degree. And the pandemic has exacerbated these disparities; according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse, enrollment among Black students in two- and four-year colleges fell by 10 percent in the spring of 2021, double the national average.

We can’t keep perpetuating the same structures and hoping for better results. Building back better requires ensuring that our education systems deliver on economic opportunity for all. Below are a few insights from the research to help us get there.

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