Research has shown that waiving tuition at community colleges could lift not just enrollment among students who may not otherwise have attended college, but their wages for years to come. Eliminating tuition makes the decision to enroll much easier, economists and researchers said. The plan was also supposed to financially shore up the colleges themselves, which have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic.
Critics of the community college plan had pointed to high dropout rates and poor outcomes at some of the schools; fewer than 40 percent of community college students earn a degree within six years.
Free community college was not as prominent a priority as other proposals, and it faced opposition from key Democrats and interest groups, according to people familiar with the matter.
Students would have been eligible for free tuition and fees for a maximum of six semesters under the plan. Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said her members had hoped it would survive, not least because Jill Biden, the first lady, is a longtime community college professor.
“I was hoping that the first lady would carry that priority across the line,” Ms. Jayapal said.
In addition to expanding tuition assistance through Pell grants — which can go toward tuition, fees, books, room and board — and other means, the package will probably include some assistance for historically Black colleges and universities, according to two people who attended a meeting about the budget bill with Mr. Biden on Tuesday.
But those people, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose details of a private conversation with the president, cautioned that it was unclear how much money would ultimately be put toward those programs.
The $3.5 trillion package already proposes increasing the maximum Pell grant award, now $6,495 per student a year, by $500.
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