‘They’re doing a bad job’: Students rally to keep college affordability in Biden spending deal

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When Veronica Bumpus had the chance to go to college for free, right after high school, she didn’t take it seriously, she said. She had been in the West Virginia foster care system from 12 to 18 years old and could have had her tuition fully paid, thanks to the Chafee Education and Training Voucher program in her state. At the time, she was struggling both mentally and physically and did not view college as an option. But once she gave birth to her son, Bryson, she knew she wanted to get a college degree in social services. She felt called to a profession in social work, inspired by those who helped her while in foster care.

But by then, as it had been years since she graduated from high school, the tuition-free opportunity she once had was no longer on the table and she was working at full time in a rehabilitation center to support his family.

“I am here to stand up for all single mothers who are trying to change their lives and do better,” Bumpus, 27, said at a Wednesday protest in Washington, DC, which called on lawmakers to pass legislation creating a community college in America. free tuition fees.

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If Bumpus hadn’t had scholarship money and taken out loans, it would have cost him about half of his annual income to attend BridgeValley Community & Technical College in South Charleston, West. Virginia, she said. She is worried about how she will pay the tuition fees next year, when she transfers to a four-year facility. She hopes to attend West Virginia State University.

Last week, President Biden told Democratic lawmakers that the tuition-free community college would likely be removed from its infrastructure spending program, dealing a blow to students and their advocates. Biden worked with Congress to reduce the bill from $ 3.5 trillion over 10 years to between $ 1.75 billion and $ 1.9 billion, in an effort to appease moderate Democrats, including Senator Joe Manchin III of Virginia -Western, who said they would not support the original proposal.

Nationwide education and civil rights groups have criticized the college affordability decision. And Bumpus and about fifty other students gathered outside the United States Capitol on a blustery morning, holding signs with mottos like “Find Our HBCUs” and “Free College 4 All” scribbled on blue paper and orange. They came from minority service institutions and community colleges across the country. For many of them, it was their first time in Washington, DC

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“When Biden and the members of Congress won their posts, they did it because they promised to represent us, and right now they are doing it wrong,” said Nia Turner, a freshman at the Washtenaw Community College. , in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Turner was disappointed to learn that the bill’s free college provision could be removed. The only reason she was able to start college was because of her state’s program which guarantees two years of free community college. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to afford college,” Turner said.

Similar stories resonated throughout the group.

Zoe Bambara always knew she was going to attend a historically black college. Her mother attended Howard University and her father attended Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina. But money was a problem. She pays for her education through scholarships and a monthly payment plan that she developed with the administrators of Morris Brown College in Atlanta. Free college, however, would allow his little brother to finish college and his parents to return for higher degrees.

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Students weren’t just walking for free college. Some protesters also wanted lawmakers to double the Pell grant and provide better funding to institutions serving minorities.

Growing up, Leisha Albert-Tulene became frustrated as the Native American community struggled to access higher education, and in high school, college felt out of reach. Traumatized by the stories of Indigenous children forced to attend residential schools, older generations on reserves did not push their children to attend college.

“It’s a bit difficult for them to tell people to go to school, because of what they’ve been through,” said Albert-Tulene.

She says people often leave the reserve to find work elsewhere after graduation. She is a student at Tohono O’odham Community College, an institution that welcomes mostly Indigenous students in Arizona, but hopes that after graduation, she can pursue a career in social work and work for her reserve. “I want to go back there and be the person they can turn to and trust,” she said.

Kate Hidalgo Bellows contributed reporting.

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