Menendez Pushes College Affordability, Outlines Legislation to Make Community Colleges Tuition-Free

Menendez Pushes College Affordability, Outlines Legislation to Make Community Colleges Tuition-Free

Senator also fights successfully to increase funding for federal student aid programs to help students pay for college


ELIZABETH, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez today visited Union County College (UCC) in Elizabeth to discuss efforts to make college more affordable, including legislation he’s sponsored to create a federal-state partnership to provide two years of tuition-free access to public community or technical college programs that lead to a degree or industry-recognized credential. 

“America is facing a $1.3 trillion student debt crisis.  We have to alleviate this burden if we want to empower young people to unleash innovation and make the 21st century another American century.  That’s why I believe it’s time we make free community college a reality in this country,” said Sen. Menendez, who relied on Pell Grants to help pay for his college and has since been a staunch champion for college affordability.  “The truth is we can’t afford NOT to invest in American students and workers.  This is about America’s ability to compete in the 21st century.  This is about America’s ability to grow the middle class.  And free community college is a smart, sustainable place to start.”

The America’s College Promise Act would give students the opportunity to access quality and affordable higher education that gives them the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the 21st century economy.  A full-time community college student could save more than $3,500 on average in tuition and fees per year.  If all states participated under this program, an estimated 9 million students could benefit. 

Sen. Menendez also successfully helped secure additional funding in the recently passed federal omnibus spending bill to make college more affordable, including:

  • Increasing the maximum Pell Grant award to $6,095, the largest increase in eight years;  
  • Increasing funding for Federal Work-Study programs by $140 million to $1.13 billion,  despite the Trump Administration’s proposal to cut the program in half;

“President Trump proposed letting the value of Pell Grants for low-income students further shrink in the face of rising costs, but we fought back and secured the largest increase in Pell Grant funding in eight years,” Sen. Menendez said.  “That’s going to help the more than 5,000 students here at UCC who rely on Pell Grants every year.”


Specifically, the America’s College Promise Act:

  • Creates a new voluntary partnership between the federal government and states and Indian tribes to help them waive resident tuition at public, two-year institutions of higher education, including community and technical colleges, for eligible students, while promoting key reforms to accelerate student success;
  • Provides a federal match of $3 for every $1 invested by the state to waive community college tuition and fees for eligible students before other financial aid is applied;
  • Ensures that programs offer academic credits which are fully transferable to four-year institutions in their state, or occupational training that leads to credentials in an in-demand industry;
  • Maintains and encourages state funding for higher education; and
  • Establishes a new grant program to provide pathways to success at minority serving institutions by helping them cover a significant portion of tuition and fees for the first two years of attendance for low-income students.

The America’s College Promise Act is cosponsored by Sens. Menendez, Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

The senator was joined at today’s news conference by UCC President Dr. Margaret M. McMenamin and students who rely on federal student aid programs, including Gisella Gamboa and Kenu Ogbezir.

Sen. Menendez visited UCC’s Cranford Campus in 2016 to lead a college affordability forum with students, where he discussed the In the Red Act, bold legislation he co-authored designed to address our nation’s student debt crisis and the skyrocketing cost of higher education, which included the America’s College Promise Act and would have been funded in part by using Sen. Menendez’s Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act and closing additional special interest tax loopholes.