Timely Community College Federal Policy Priorities for 2021

ACCT and AACC come together annually to release a list of federal policy priorities that represent the interests of community college leaders and the students they serve. We put together a high-level overview of community college policy priorities for 2021.

Every two years, the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) establish a joint legislative agenda that represents the interests of community college leaders and the students they serve. The agenda outlines federal policies related to a wide range of higher education issues, including financial aid, basic needs services and workforce development. The complete Community College Joint Legislative Agenda for the 117th Congress (2021-2022) can be found here.

In addition to the joint legislative agenda, ACCT and AACC release a list of timely community college federal legislative priorities every year. This document includes items Congress could act on in the immediate future to improve postsecondary policies for institutions and students. Below is an overview of community college federal legislative priorities for 2021.

Strengthen the Role of Community Colleges an Economic Recovery

Our economy has suffered tremendously because of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 15 million workers are unemployed, and the economy has lost nearly 10 million jobs since the pandemic started. As the nation moves towards a recovery, community colleges stand ready to expand access to valuable education and training programs for all students, including displaced workers.

To help solidify the role of community colleges in a large-scale economic recovery, ACCT supports the inclusion of a community college-led job training program in any comprehensive recovery legislation considered by Congress. The program should build on the demonstrated success of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program and aim to tightly link training programs to jobs as the economy recovers.

Support Dreamers

Community colleges remain committed to the enactment of legislation that would provide Dreamers—undocumented individuals brought to the United States as children—with a path to citizenship. While the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has allowed nearly 800,000 Dreamers to continue to safely live and work in the U.S. on a temporary basis, legislation is crucial for establishing a path to permanent legal status and, eventually, citizenship for Dreamers.

In light of this, ACCT supports H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act which was recently passed by the House of Representatives on March 19, 2021. This measure aims to provide a pathway to citizenship for certain undocumented individuals, including those who pass a background check, enroll in or complete a postsecondary program or join the military. ACCT continues to advocate for the Senate to take up and pass the American Dream and Promise Act.

End the Taxation of Pell Grants

Under current law, individuals can be taxed on any portion of their Pell Grant award that exceeds tuition and related expenses. This means that community college students must pay tax on any portion of their Pell Grant that is used to help meet living expenses. Additionally, taxing Pell Grants prevents thousands of community college students from receiving the full American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), because of unintended interactions between the programs.

To date, several bills aimed at excluding Pell Grants from gross income for tax purposes have been introduced in Congress, including the Pell Grant Flexibility Act, introduced by Rep. DeSaulnier (D-CA) and the American Opportunity Student Tax Relief Act, led by Reps. Doggett (TX-35) and Fitzpatrick (R-PA). ACCT supports the inclusion of these or similar measures in any comprehensive tax reform bill considered by Congress.  

Invest in Higher Education and Workforce Development in Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 

ACCT and AACC recently sent a comprehensive letter to appropriators in the House and Senate outlining community college funding priorities for Fiscal Year (FY) 2022. Community colleges support funding for programs that will:

  • Support Student Access and Success: Federal financial aid programs are crucial to the success of students enrolled in postsecondary education and training programs.  Community colleges call for robust federal funding for the Pell Grant program as well as the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG), Federal Work Study (FWS), TRIO, GEAR UP and CCAMPIS programs.
  • Strengthen Under-Resourced Institutions: Federal institutional aid programs provide support to often under-resourced institutions that serve a large portion of students who have been underrepresented in higher education. Community colleges support funding increases for institutional aid programs, including: Title III-A Strengthening Institutions; Strengthening Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); Tribal Colleges; Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs); Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and other programs serving traditionally underrepresented populations.
  • Bolster Job Training and Career and Technical Education: Community colleges help prepare students and workers for jobs in in-demand industries through career and technical education programs, workforce-oriented programs, and adult basic education programs. ACCT strongly supports robust funding for the Strengthening Community College Training Grant (SCCTG) program, Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, Adult Basic and Literacy Education State Grants, and state grants under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Reauthorize the Higher Education Act for Today’s Colleges and Students

The Higher Education Act (HEA) helps strengthen postsecondary education by providing federal support to colleges and students. HEA has not been reauthorized by Congress since 2008, and is in need of modernization to meet the needs of today's students. Community colleges support the inclusion of the following proposals in any future HEA reauthorization bill:

  • Work with States to Make Community College Universally Accessible: ACCT continues to support the establishment of a federal-state partnership aimed at creating tuition-free community college. States should be incentivized to sustain and enhance their support of higher education as the federal government helps make community college universally available.
  • Support Pell Grants for Students in Short-Term Workforce Programs: Currently, postsecondary programs must last at least two-thirds of a year to qualify for Pell Grants. Many community college programs that are shorter than that result in better jobs for students, but without student aid, cost remains a barrier. ACCT supports the bipartisan JOBS Act (S.864, H.R. 2037), which was recently reintroduced by Senators Kaine (D-VA) and Portman (R-OH), and Representatives Levin (D-MI) and Gonzalez (R-OH). The JOBS Act would extend Pell eligibility to students enrolled in high-quality programs that are at least 150 clock hours over 8 weeks of instruction.
  • Invest in Basic Needs Supports for Students: The true cost of attending community college extends beyond the price of tuition. Most community college students experience unmet financial need to pay for necessities such as food, housing, transportation, child care, medical expenses and broadband services. Community colleges support policies that increase student access to these and other critical basic needs services.

For more information on these legislative priorities and to access community college advocacy tools and information, please visit  

Katie Brown is the Director of Government Relations at ACCT and can be reached at

José Miranda is the Senior Government Relations Associate at ACCT and can be reached at

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