SPRINGFIELD—First lady Jill Biden and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon on Monday to discuss how the American Rescue Plan will support higher education in Illinois.
After touring the facility, Cardona and the first lady announced President Joe Biden’s investment in higher education through the American Rescue Plan, the latest federal COVID-19 pandemic relief package, which includes $40 billion for higher education infrastructure projects and programs to make education more accessible.
Gov. JB Pritzker was also in attendance for the visit on Monday, along with other Illinois lawmakers, but did not speak publicly.
As a professor at Northern Virginia Community College, Biden is a longtime advocate for education, especially community college education.
During her husband’s former vice presidency, Biden was appointed by President Barack Obama as honorary chair of the College Promise program, a national initiative to make two-year community college education free.
“What starts in one community college classroom can create a chain effect that is eventually felt by every single American,” Jill Biden said.
She announced at the news conference that Sauk Valley Community College will be launching its own College Promise program. Although the program was established six years ago, President Biden intends to build on this initiative to make higher education more attainable, according to the first lady.
“(President Biden) is ready for big ideas and bold action, so that all Americans can go to community college and have the support they need to finish and get good jobs,” Jill Biden said. “Together we are going to get this done because community colleges are our future.”
Cardona said the pandemic has had a significant impact on community college attendance, citing a 10 percent decline in community college enrollment this year.
“Most (community college) students are part-time students, part-time workers, parents, caregivers and displaced workers,” Cardona said. “Community college plays such a critical role in addressing equity, and making sure that gaps, exacerbated by the pandemic, close.”
In Illinois, 19 higher education institutions will benefit from the American Rescue Plan funding, including Illinois State University, the University of Illinois System, Illinois Valley Community College and Illinois Eastern Community Colleges, to name a few.
The eligible institutions will be required to spend at least half of these allocated funds to provide direct relief grants to students to cover an array of student costs of attendance, such as housing, food and technology expenses, among other needs.
Similar to funding from previous federal relief packages, remaining funds can also be used by the institutions to cover lost revenue, technology costs due to remote learning, faculty and staff training, or payroll.
The National Education Association released a fact sheet that outlines the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund included in the American Rescue Plan, which found that about 7.5 percent, or nearly $3 billion of the $40 billion in grants will be specifically dedicated to historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, minority-serving institutions and other under-resourced institutions.
Approximately $36 billion will go to 3,500 public and private, nonprofit colleges and universities, and around $395.8 million will be allocated for 1,630 for-profit institutions, according to the American Council on Education.
“My husband, our president, understands…if we want our communities to thrive, if we want our businesses to have more skilled workers that they need, if we want to prepare our economy for the future, there is no greater investment that we can make than in education,” Biden said.
Cardona also noted an infrastructure proposal backed by the president would invest in community college facilities, and the discretionary budget proposed by the president “increases the maximum Pell Grant by $400, the largest since 2009.”