June 20, 2021

ERNST: Free community college for everybody is unrealistic, ‘nor is it the right thing to do’

Iowa U.S. Sen. says there are ways to target dollars for the people ‘that really do need them’

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said Thursday that President Joe Biden’s promises to provide tuition-free community college to every student — which was outlined in the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan — is unrealistic and may not be the right thing to do.

“There are ways to target the dollars for the folks that really do need them and give them that educational opportunity. But just President Biden promising it to everybody, I don’t think that’s realistic. Nor is it the right thing to do,” Ernst told Newton News after a roundtable discussion with local leaders at DMACC.

Ernst questioned the logistics behind tuition-free community college, which, under Biden’s plan, would offer two years of post-secondary education to all Americans. DREAMers, or undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children and were raised in the United States, would be eligible as well.

The plan allocates $109 billion for those first-time students and those workers wanting to reskill to enroll in a community college “to earn a degree or credential for free.” Students can take advantage of the benefit over three years, or, in some cases, even four years.

If all states, territories and Tribes participate, the plan stated about 5.5 million students would pay nothing in tuition and fees. Ernst suggests it’s not free.

“How do we pay those instructors? How do we pay the light bills? It’s not ‘free’ … I wish everybody would stop calling it ‘free community college,’” she said.

Ernst also challenged the fairness of the plan that she indicated would use taxpayers dollars to fund, using her brother as an example. Upon graduating high school, she said her brother went directly into the workforce. Today, he is employed as a laborer for the railroad and works on a heavy equipment crew.

“So he’s going to turn around and pay for some wealthy kid to go to community college through his taxes? I don’t think that’s right,” Ernst said.

However, Ernst is on board with rewarding individuals for seeking post-secondary education by letting employers help pay back some of those student loans. The federal government, she said, can provide tax credits to those businesses opting to do just that.

“We want to make sure that people are going to college,” Ernst said. “If they want to go to community college let’s help them with that.”

Ernst added that the United States already has a Pell Grant system that “goes to people that really need those dollars.”

“Not just every random man or woman that wants to go to school,” she said.

The U.S. Department of Education states Pell Grants provide “need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain postbaccalaureate students.”

Over the past 50 years, the value of Pell Grants — which is depended on by nearly 7 million students — has plummeted, Biden’s plan stated. American Families Plan addresses this by allocating $80 billion to increase maximum Pell Grants up to $1,400. DREAMers would also have access to these grants.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

Christopher Braunschweig

Reporter with a strong penchant for community journalism.