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By Melissa Young and Emily Andrews


Millions of people in the United States want to work but cannot access employment and quality job opportunities due to many factors rooted in structural inequity. Such challenges disproportionately harm Black, Indigenous, and Latinx individuals, other people of color, women, youth, people with disabilities, and individuals with intersectional identities. Despite economic growth, the Black male unemployment rate remains consistently high.[i] In fact, it is about twice as high as white male unemployment, a ratio that has stubbornly persisted for over 50 years.[ii] Young workers (ages 16 to 24 years old) have also experienced unemployment at extraordinarily high rates, especially during economic downturns.[iii] Even when the economy is strong, these and other workers with intersectional identities face unrelenting challenges in getting and keeping quality jobs.

A man working in engineering field looking hopeful. Source: Getty, Nitat Termmee

Recent shifts in federal guidance and an influx of new federal investments have created opportunities to leverage and coordinate funding streams across the federal government to address racial and racial-gender economic inequality. Subsidized employment and transitional jobs are proven workforce strategies that reduce poverty and inequality – specifically for Black and Hispanic workers. These programs are poised to have significant positive impacts for workers if coordinated and deployed in strategic ways.[iv]

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) believes that aligning subsidized employment and transitional jobs programs across the federal government effectively requires that the federal government take a whole-of-government approach. Such an approach can:

  1. Ensure that more communities and individuals have access to subsidized employment and transitional jobs programs;
  2. Guide implementation toward best and promising practices; and
  3. Advance effectiveness with an explicit focus on equity, inclusion, and building programs that work best for people who are economically marginalized.

We also believe that taking this approach is in keeping with the Biden Administration’s goals of leveraging comprehensive approaches across the federal government to advance equity for all. That includes people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.[v]

This brief offers perspectives from CLASP on how the Biden Administration can advance a whole-of-government approach to managing and directing these resources.


Since the Great Depression, policymakers have leveraged federal funding at various times to subsidize wage-paying, real work opportunities for people who want to work but cannot access employment. The goals of these investments have been to connect people to work in times of high unemployment, increase income for individuals and families, and support pathways to unsubsidized employment, among others.

These programs have been called subsidized employment, transitional jobs, and paid work experience. They have also been referred to as publicly funded jobs or jobs of last resort. Currently, smaller uncoordinated pots of federal funding for these programs are housed in the U.S. Departments of Labor; Health and Human Services; Agriculture; Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice. Notably, these pots of federal resources are not specifically dedicated to these strategies. Rather, these federal funding streams are used on a discretionary basis to implement subsidized employment, transitional jobs, and wage-paid work, among other uses of funds. Therefore, the whims or political vagaries of the times can limit or derail the use of this funding for these employment strategies. (The table in the Appendix on page 9 lists current funding streams and target populations.)

Subsidized employment and transitional jobs programs have been rigorously evaluated for over 40 years, demonstrating a range of positive impacts for workers, families, communities, and employers.[vi] These positive effects have included stabilizing and increasing income among workers; reducing housing instability; supporting transitions from incarceration to community for people returning from incarceration; improving health and wellbeing; bolstering the educational attainment of children whose parents participate in these programs; and reducing gun violence, among others. Wages paid to program participants stimulate local economies and have been shown to improve access to public services.[vii] Employers routinely articulate the benefits of these programs.

Above all, these programs have a demonstrated ability to directly reduce poverty and economic inequality. Multiple models have shown that subsidized employment and transitional jobs can reduce poverty by double digits—with higher impacts for Black and Hispanic workers.[viii]

More recently, we anticipate seeing increased implementation of these programs by states and localities and higher likelihood and need for federal coordination. This is in part because of new federal guidance and initiatives, along with new or increased funding.


Whole-of-Government Approach

A whole-of-government approach refers to a set of joint activities performed by diverse public agencies to support a common or aligned solution to issues. CLASP recommends the following elements for applying a whole-of-government approach that leverages subsidized employment and transitional jobs programs to reduce economic inequity and marginalization:

Employing a whole-of-government strategy to leverage these resources can support the Biden Administration’s economic and racial equity goals. Moreover, this approach can link current investments for workers with new and emerging jobs and economic development investments galvanized through the implementation of IIJA and IRA.

Goals and Principles

Depending on the funding stream and the federal agency jurisdiction, the goals of subsidized employment and transitional jobs programs can differ. When advancing a whole-of-government approach, there is value in identifying a set of primary goals and principles to guide how these programs are designed and implemented across the federal government. A common set of goals and principles can support efforts to blend funding to implement these programs at the state and local levels and focus the goals of stakeholders. This practice can also help measure the effectiveness of these programs in increasing income and advancing more equitable access to employment and quality jobs.

Program goals should inform program design. The following three goals should guide subsidized employment and transitional jobs programs across the federal government. At the same time, not every program or funding stream used for subsidized employment or transitional jobs programs will share each of these goals:

The following principles should constitute the foundation for these programs across the federal government:

Many of these principles are reflected in a national framework endorsed by nearly 30 national organizations and are included in recent frameworks by national research and policy organizations. [xvi] [xvii]

Common or Aligned Performance Measures

As policymakers conceptualize and design subsidized employment and transitional jobs programs funded by the federal government, they can build common or aligned performance measures into funding opportunities. Incentives can support data collection and monitoring over time to understand the impact of these programs on the above-mentioned goals. In some cases, such as the use of TANF funds, programs are prohibited from collecting data beyond the statutory requirements. However, where federal flexibility exists or new programs are established through competitive grants, common aligned data can and should be collected.

Program evaluators have recommended the following performance measures that may offer a template for federal partners to use. Programs and data should be disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, and other participant characteristics, such as:

Requiring or recommending that programs collect these data is not enough. The federal government should incentivize the use of these data in tracking program effectiveness and improving programs over time. Programs should supplement this quantitative data with regular, consistent opportunities for workers and other stakeholders to provide feedback on program structure, design, and effectiveness through qualitative mechanisms. Federal partners should incentivize and support the collection and monitoring of both quantitative and qualitative data. In addition, programs should leverage capacity, technical assistance, and resources to support these goals.

Capacity-Building Resources

It will be critical for stakeholders to identify and leverage resources at all levels of government to support capacity-building efforts that ensure programs are effective and aligned with identified goals. New resources and increased flexibility will allow an increased number of states, cities, intermediaries, and providers to implement subsidized employment programs.

Policymakers should identify and set aside funds to provide technical assistance to support states and communities in leveraging these resources; designing programs; building data capacity; engaging in cross-agency collaboration; educating on best and promising program practices; conducting program monitoring and compliance; implementing communications; and ensuring worker voice is supported, compensated, and incentivized in program development and implementation.

Programs should also dedicate capacity to support cross-learning among subsidized employment and transitional jobs programs nationwide, as well as lift up implementation profiles and examples of quality programs. Moreover, programs should identify federal agency staff to support capacity-building efforts in alignment with the goals stated here.

Federal Leadership and Coordination

To support a whole-of-government approach to these resources, the White House Domestic Policy Council should establish or identify dedicated staff and leadership to promote a vision for these programs and their transformative possibilities. These individuals should share a commitment to building the infrastructure necessary to support this vision for people and communities who have been economically marginalized. Staff should leverage federal leadership across agencies to support program and policy development and alignment and ensure that worker voice is centered in program design.

Leaders selected to steward these resources should also possess the authority and ability to:


Regardless of the business cycle, far too many people face chronic unemployment and poverty. Federal leaders can help people most in need—and advance economic and racial equity goals—by seizing this extraordinary moment. That is, policymakers can leverage a whole-of-government approach for supporting and managing current and future investments and new federal flexibility for subsidized employment.

Using this comprehensive strategy can ensure that these investments have maximum positive impact for individuals, families, and entire communities.

>> View full brief and appendix


[i] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Databases, Tables, and Calculators by Subject, 2022,

[ii] Valerie Wilson, “Racism and the Economy, Focus on Employment,” Economic Policy Institute, 2020,

[iii] Elise Gould, Melat Kassa, Young Workers hit hard by the COVID-19 economy, Economic Policy Institute, 2020,

[iv] Kye Lippold, Reducing Poverty in the United States: Results of a Microsimulation Analysis of the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute Policy Package, table B-3, Urban Institute, March 2015,

[v] Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, White House, Presidential Actions, 2021,

[vi] Indivar Dutta-Gupta, Kali Grant, Matthew Eckel, and Peter Edelman, Lesson Learned from 40 Years of Subsidized Employment Programs, Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, 2016,

[vii] Jonah Kushner, Chicago Neighborhood JobStart evaluation report: A transitional jobs response to the great recession, Chicago: Social IMPACT Research Center, 2012,

[viii] Kye Lippold, Reducing Poverty in the United States: Results of a Microsimulation Analysis of the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute Policy Package, table B-3, Urban Institute, March 2015,

[ix] Elizabeth Lower-Basch, Melissa Young, Subsidized Employment: A Strategy to Address Equity and Inclusion in SNAP E&T Programs, Center for Law and Social Policy, 2022,

[x] Melissa Young, Nia West-Bey, Designing Equitable Community Violence Intervention Strategies with Employment and Workforce Supports, Center for Law and Social Policy, 2022,

[xi] FACT SHEET: President Biden Takes Executive Actions to Tackle the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, Create Jobs, and Restore Scientific Integrity Across Federal Government, The White House, 2021,

[xii] Office of Management and Budget, Interim Implementation Guidance for the Justice40 Initiative, July 20, 2021,

[xiii] Maxine Joselow, Vanessa Montalbano, “The Climate 202: The Civilian Climate Corps was dropped from the climate bill. Now What?” Washington Post, September 8, 2022.

[xiv] Back to Work: Listening to Americans, Gallup and Carnegie Corporation of New York, 2021,

[xv] Sapna Mehta, Emily Andrews, Updating WIOA to Empower Workers and Create Shared Prosperity, Center for Law and Social Policy, 2022,

[xvi] Caitlin C. Schnur, Chris Warland, Melissa Young, Framework for an Equity Centered National Subsidized Employment Program, Heartland Alliance, 2021,

[xvii] Algernon Austin, Annabel Utz, Toward Black Full Employment: A Subsidized Employment Proposal, Center for Economy and Policy Research, September 2022,


The following statement can be attributed to Indivar Dutta-Gupta, president and executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

Washington, D.C., December 22, 2022—The 2023 Omnibus Appropriations bill offers an important opportunity to advance economic opportunity and strengthen social, gender, and racial justice. Yes, the bill includes some heartbreaks—most particularly by failing to address key immigration issues and neglecting to expand the Child Tax Credit (CTC), which demonstrably led to the lowest level of child poverty on record. Yet the omnibus also includes important wins for people with low incomes, including in the areas of child care; health and mental health; labor and education; protections for pregnant workers; and nutrition supports. CLASP applauds the bill’s passage and notes that the legislation’s key provisions—and what it overlooks—highlight policy priorities for 2023 and beyond.


CLASP joins partners in the immigration community in acknowledging how devastating it is for Congress to fail once again to come together in making critical fixes to our immigration system that promote family unity, including a pathway to citizenship for those who contribute so much to our communities and call this country home. Most notably, the lack of a permanent fix for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and other young immigrants means more than 600,000 DACA recipients will lose their lawful status and work permits in the near future and thousands of other Dreamers will continue to live in limbo. That said, the bill includes some important resources to support asylum seekers as well as the communities working to welcome them, as well as increases funds to support legal representation, child advocates, and post-release services for unaccompanied children.

Income Supports and Nutrition

Despite child poverty rates that fell to their lowest levels ever in 2021 thanks to the expanded CTC, Congress failed to include this proven poverty-fighting measure in the omnibus bill. Likewise, the bill excludes expansions to the Earned Income Tax Credit, a program with long-standing bipartisan support.

In the nutrition space, the omnibus extends to all states the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (Summer EBT) program, which provides additional purchasing resources to address the hunger that many children experience when school meals end in the summer. It also includes a measure allowing states to use federal funds to replace SNAP benefits that are stolen from recipients when organized groups engaged in criminal activity clone SNAP EBT cards and withdraw their funds. Outrageously, the bill also cuts nutrition benefits to other households with low incomes by prematurely ending SNAP Emergency Allotments.

Child Care and Early Education

To support the fragile child care sector that remains woefully underfunded, the omnibus bill includes a boost of $8 billion—representing a 30 percent increase from fiscal year 2022—for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCBDG). This added funding will help the program serve an additional 130,000+ children. The bill also provides a nearly $12 billion increase (an 8.6 percent jump) for Head Start, along with reauthorizing the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program.

Health and Mental Health

The bill ends the COVID-related protections that prohibited states from disenrolling people from Medicaid. This provision will now end on March 31. However, the bill creates more transparency and allows CMS to hold states accountable if they terminate eligible people from health coverage.

This bill invests in a range of programs that support mental and behavioral health, including more than $1 billion for the Mental Health Block Grant. The bill also includes critical provisions for maternal mental health that support birthing persons where they are and support a diverse set of providers to provide culturally sensitive and linguistically concordant care.

Labor and Higher Education 

At the last minute, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a bipartisan effort prohibiting discrimination against employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions was incorporated into the omnibus. Other provisions to support working people include $9 million for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, $20 million for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and $25 million for the long-neglected National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), averting threatened furloughs of staff. And in the higher education sphere, the omnibus increases the maximum Pell Grant award amount to $7,395, a $500 increase above fiscal year 2022 enacted levels.


All in all, the country will be a better place with the bill than without it. Even this omnibus that falls short of what is needed is better than a year-long continuing resolution that locks in last year’s spending at a time of high inflation—or a government shutdown.







Providing Income to Unemployed Workers

Expanding EITC for Young Adults 

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) temporarily expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) eligibility for the 2021 tax year to young workers (19-24) who don’t have dependent children and increased the maximum credit from $542 to $1,502. 

This EITC expansion provided income support to 17 million+ people who work for low pay. 

Partially Forgiving Student Debt 

The student loan payment pause has helped millions of borrowers avoid financial ruin during the pandemic. In 2022, the Biden Administration implemented $20,000 in debt relief to Pell Grant recipients with loans held by the U.S. Department of Education and up to $10,000 in relief to non-Pell Grant recipients, providing much-needed support to over a third of borrowers. 

Investing in Green Energy 

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022 invests in climate solutions to help reduce the long-term negative impact on young people, people of color, and people experiencing poverty. The IRA included climate investments and targeted funding to address the disproportionate environmental and public health harms to communities with low incomes and communities of color. This includes Environmental and Climate Justice Block Grants to invest in workforce development.  

Making Progress for Immigrant Youth

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bipartisan American Dream and Promise Act in March 2021, which would provide a pathway to citizenship to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, undocumented youth, and individuals with Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure. The Biden Administration also published a final DACA rule in 2022 bolstering the previous DACA memorandum through regulation. 

Protecting Children’s Mental Health 

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act passed in June 2022 requires telehealth in Medicaid and revised guidance on care for Medicaid-eligible young people in schools. The bill also funds increased awareness of mental health issues among children and youth and training for staff to better handle mental health needs. The Biden Administration released a comprehensive mental health plan with proposed investments in youth mental health aligned with CLASP advocacy. 

Strengthening Democracy 

Young people shaped the last election and have the power to shape the next one. Despite uneven wins, young people can and must continue pushing for policies that help end poverty, promote racial justice, and build political power for a safer, healthier, more equitable world. 

Make Expanded EITC Permanent 

Making the EITC improvements permanent and including college students with financial needs in such improvements would help improve the financial wellbeing of young adults and other workers without dependent children. 

Relieve Student Debt 

President Biden ran on an agenda that included student debt relief and must now make good on those promises. Congress and the administration should cancel up to $50,000 of student loan debt per borrower, which would immediately increase the wealth of Black borrowers by nearly 40 percent. 

Act Quickly on Climate 

Investing in climate solutions while expanding leases and drilling permits harms Indigenous and frontline communities and violates the principles of Environmental Justice. Congress should invest new IRA funding in evidence-based and targeted workforce development strategies that transition us to a green economy. 

Protect Children’s Health 

The Senate Finance Committee developed a legislative package that aligns with CLASP priorities to address gaps in the mental health system. Congress must pass the youth mental health and telehealth provisions not included in the Safer Communities Act, along with the sections that address workforce, parity, and care integration. 

Pass a Pathway to Citizenship 

Congress must pass a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and other immigrant youth, given the threats to DACA and uncertain future facing thousands of young immigrants ineligible for DACA. The Biden Administration must also provide access to health care for DACA recipients through the Affordable Care Act. 

Make Good on Promises 

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act provided funding for school hardening and surveillance measures, which are the opposite of “safe.” These measures, which disproportionately harm young people of color and young people with disabilities, conflict with the administration’s commitment to racial equity and must be rolled back. 

Strengthen Democracy 

Even before the pandemic, young people were leading the charge for broad, systemic, and transformative change. In partnership with CLASP, the New Deal for Youth is a youth-led, youth-centered effort to create new systems, policies, investments, and structures that reimagine life for young people. Join the movement, read about their policy demands 


Providing Income to Unemployed Workers

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance—enacted by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act—helped people unable to work due to the pandemic. This included self-employed workers, those seeking part-time employment, or people who otherwise wouldn’t qualify for regular unemployment benefits. At the pandemic’s peak, 1 in 4 workers received this assistance. 

Strengthening Tax Credits for Workers 

2021’s temporary expansion of the earned income tax credit (EITC) nearly tripled the maximum benefit for workers without children in the home, raising it from $543 to $1,502 and making it available for the first time to workers younger than 24. This expansion supported over 17 million people who work for low pay. 

Congress also expanded the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and made fit fully refundable in 2021. The expanded credit kept nearly 3 million children out of poverty, especially benefiting families earning too little to receive the full CTC previously. 

Ending Worksite Raids 

In October 2021, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ended its practice of worksite raids, which have devastating consequences for families, workers’ rights, and local communities. DHS was also required to work with the U.S. Department of Labor on policies that encourage immigrant workers to collaborate with law enforcement in holding unscrupulous employers accountable—to include providing relief to workers who come forward—and prevent employers from misusing the E-verify program to exploit immigrant workers. 

Passing Emergency Paid Family and Medical Leave 

In 2020, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, implementing the first national requirement for paid family and medical leave and paid sick days. These provisions were extremely effective in combatting COVID-19, reducing cases by 400 or more per state per day. Policymakers allowed both provisions to expire in December 2020.  

Using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, states and municipalities created, expanded, or supported paid sick leave, paid family leave, and paid medical leave programs. 

What’s Next?

Make the CTC & EITC Expansion Permanent 

The expanded CTC led to an unprecedented decline in child poverty. However, Congress didn’t extend it in 2022, and immigrant children without Social Security numbers remain ineligible for this proven poverty-fighting tool. Congress should make the EITC and the CTC expansions permanent. The CTC should include: 

Pass the Care Agenda 

While a historic step, the 2020 paid family and medical leave and sick leave provisions were temporary and flawed. Millions of workers in low-wage industries were either excluded by employer carve-outs or unaware of the program. Congress must pass the full care agenda to support working families. This includes: 

Care jobs, which have long been underpaid and undervalued, have historically been held by women—and disproportionately by women of color. Congress must invest in child care and home care to transform care jobs into family-sustaining jobs—while also establishing a national paid-leave program to help more working people care for loved ones. 

Strengthen Collective Bargaining & Workers’ Rights 

Pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act to protect workers’ rights and hold employers accountable for violations of labor law. 

Pass the bipartisan Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act to ensure pregnant workers can prioritize their health and maintain their financial security at a critical time. 

Ensure Access to Good Jobs for All 

Make good on the infrastructure and climate job creation investments in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act by ensuring these bills support diverse workers with the resources needed to enter and succeed in these sectors and occupations. 

Fully fund President Biden’s Civilian Climate Corps and ensure pathways to these quality jobs through equitable subsidized employment and pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs. 

Codify and fully fund the Reentry Employment Opportunities Program to meet the scope and scale of mass incarceration and correctional control. 

Create a Safe Pathway to Citizenship 

Congress must pass a pathway to citizenship for Deferred Access for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, farmworkers, and other undocumented immigrants. Our workforce and economy depend on immigrants, many of whom filled essential roles during the pandemic and beyond. 

By Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies


The student loan debt crisis threatens the economic security of Black women, according to ​​CLASP (Center for Law and Social Policy). Black women carry about 20% more debt than white women ($33,851 vs. $41,466) in undergraduate loans one year after graduation.

Read the full article here.

By J Geiman 

In 1972, the second reauthorization of the federal Higher Education Act (HEA) created the program we now know as the Pell Grant. It was the product of efforts by both policymakers and lobbyists, including its namesake Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI), as well as the late Lois Dickson Rice–a daughter of working-class Jamaican immigrants who earned the moniker “the mother of Pell” for her contributions to the program. Decades of expansions have made Pell a cornerstone of the federal student aid system and a vital support for students with lower incomes. 

Nevertheless, much has changed since 1972, including our economy, the demands of our workforce, and the demographics of our postsecondary student population. As we celebrate 50 years of Pell, we are at a critical moment to ensure the program meets these changing needs now—and in the decades to come. Here are three of CLASP’s key recommendations for the future of the program: 

1. Double the award amount and index the grant to inflation.

When Pell was created, the traditional college student was young, financially dependent on their parents, and attending school full time. In fact, the definition of an “independent student”—one who is 24 years or older, caring for dependents, homeless or in foster care, or otherwise financially independent—was not introduced into the HEA until 1986.  

Today, however, independent students make up the majority of all U.S. college students. These students face additional financial barriers, being responsible not only for educational expenses but basic needs for themselves and dependents including housing, food, transportation, and child care—which have dramatically increased in price while wages have stagnated. At the same time, independent students may face a higher opportunity cost for pursuing a degree, often needing to cut work hours to make time for classes and coursework. 

Policymakers have made incremental increases to the Pell Grant over the years, but the current maximum award amount of $6,895 does little to address the rising total cost of higher education for this new college majority. Doubling the Pell award as proposed in President Biden’s FY23 budget would help students with lower incomes access college without overreliance on student loans. Furthermore, ensuring the award is permanently indexed to inflation would help maintain its purchasing power over the years. 

2. Pass Short-term Pell to help students access quality workforce training programs.

Our economy and workforce have also changed since the 1970s. Roughly 52 percent of today’s jobs require more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree. However, only 43 percent of workers have access to the training and education programs that would prepare them to enter these jobs. One potential avenue to access these jobs is through short-term credential programs, such as those offered through many community colleges—but these programs are ineligible for most federal student aid including Pell Grants.  

The House-passed America COMPETES Act would expand Pell access to students enrolled in qualifying short-term credential programs. Critically, current language in the bill provides quality controls for the types of programs these funds can be used for, including ensuring they are offered by Eligible Training Providers; that they meet definitions of career pathways under both the HEA and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA); and that they lead to gainful employment. With these important guardrails in place, Short-term Pell represents an opportunity for students from families and communities with low incomes to access career-relevant skills training—and for employers in sectors like construction, manufacturing, and health care to address critical labor and skills shortages. 

3. Expand Pell access to undocumented students.

Immigrant students make up an ever-increasing proportion of our student population and face complex barriers to postsecondary access and success. In particular, undocumented students are ineligible for federal student aid, including Pell Grants. At the same time, only 21 states and the District of Columbia allow these students to access in-state tuition rates, putting a postsecondary degree out of reach even at a public institution. While many undocumented individuals arrived as children and have called the U.S. home for most of their lives, their status is a barrier to continuing their education and accessing the full opportunities of the workforce. 

While the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is uncertain, policymakers should lift the restrictions on federal student aid for undocumented students who received or would be eligible for DACA status, as well as those with temporary protected status (TPS). Access to the Pell Grant would be of particular support in helping these students access quality postsecondary education programs. 

Policymakers are at a critical moment to make transformative investments in the Pell Grant. They can use the current budget appropriations process, individual policies like the America COMPETES Act, and an eventual reauthorization to the Higher Education Act—which has stalled since March 2020—to lay the groundwork for the next 50 years of the program. We urge the administration and Congress to commit to ensuring the Pell Grant works for those who need it most and remains relevant to the needs of America’s changing student demographics. 

By Christian Collins

This Juneteenth, the annual reflection of this country’s historical mistreatment of Black Americans must consider the impact of white supremacy on higher education policy. Access to higher education and the accompanying socioeconomic advantages provided by postsecondary degree attainment have long been withheld from Black communities. Even when managing to access pathways to higher education, Black students have long experienced lower retention and graduation rates than other racial groups, and this disparity is especially evident for Black men.

Juneteenth’s truth telling offers a remedy for Black men’s falling enrollment rates caused by expansive and harmful institutional racism on Black Americans. Higher education is a known pathway to achieving socioeconomic equality, which is why federal policy that’s been rooted in racism has historically worked to deny Black men access to postsecondary education and associated benefits. The only way to bridge the current gaps between state goals and actual degree attainment achieved by Black men is by addressing the structural inequities that reduce the likelihood of Black male students accessing higher education.

The declining enrollment rates of Black men at undergraduate institutions have only been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Between fall 2019 and 2021, Black men experienced a 14.8 percent enrollment drop, compared to a 10.2 percent drop across all males. At community colleges, Black men’s enrollment decreased 23.5 percent in the same period, second only to Native American men among men and women of all racial groups. These trends indicate that the same societal inequities that many hoped to be resolved on June 19, 1865, are still as pervasive and effective as ever in preventing Black men’s upward economic mobility. Experts point to many factors for why Black men either decide against or are prevented from pursuing higher education. These include reduced access to financial resources and support, disproportionately receiving punitive discipline in pre-college years, and having to navigate educational campuses openly hostile to their existence.

Policy Changes Can Reverse Declining Enrollment Rates for Black Men

Targeted financial supports that bridge the income and wealth gaps faced by Black men are crucial to reversing declining community college enrollment rates, including re-balancing the amount of public education funding meant for higher education. Since the late 1970s, the share of college-related costs paid by students and their families has increased from 33 percent to 46 percent in 2020. In fact, Black community college graduates represent the highest percentage of loan borrowers by race and borrow the highest average amount while completing their degrees. Congress must correct the ratio of public funding through the long-overdue reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) to match federal grants and financial aid with rising tuition and other educational costs.

Notable among provisions available for Congress to alleviate barriers to accessing postsecondary education are the collection of eight programs known as TRiO, which provide federal outreach and services for individuals from communities that have been historically disadvantaged. These programs were specifically formed as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and have since served as critical lifelines to help Black men navigate the social, academic, and financial challenges of postsecondary education. Between 1965 and 2021, total national TRiO participation from all demographics of students has grown from 3,261 to 854,929, yet funding per participant for all TRiO programs has fallen between 1997 and 2021.

Tuition is only one of the barriers preventing Black men from accessing postsecondary opportunities, as many students also navigate food and housing insecurities they must manage while considering the monetary and time costs of community college. Nearly 70 percent of surveyed students attending predominantly Black two-year institutions experienced food insecurity within 30 days prior to being surveyed, in addition to housing insecurity or homelessness in the year prior. We can support increased enrollment among Black men by expanding the accessibility of federal benefits programs for students though eliminating unnecessary restrictions to program eligibility and providing guidance for students to know which programs they qualify for. Increasing funding for other discretionary grants like the U.S. Department of Education’s Basic Needs for Postsecondary Students Program is also paramount to maximizing the ability of community colleges to address basic needs insecurities for their students by preventing limitations of awards due to lack of funds.

Redressing Declining Black Male Enrollment Rates Requires a Meaningful Support System

Higher education is just one branch of the tree of systemic racism, but dedicated efforts to increase access to higher education pathways for Black men are key in helping them achieve the same social mobility that other demographics enjoy. These efforts must also be combined with increased supports for Black children, as structural barriers preventing Black men from enrolling in community college often begin in the K-12 system. While our nation has made substantial progress in providing the public good of a community college education to Black men, we need new policy solutions to protect these students from persistent systemic inequities that influence their enrollment rates.

By J Geiman & Alpha S. Taylor

President Biden ran on an agenda that included student debt relief for the more than 44 million borrowers who collectively owe over $1.6 trillion. This would be in line with the Biden Administration’s racial equity goals, as it would include relief for the millions of Black borrowers who are disproportionately affected by the student loan crisis. While the administration has made progress in providing limited cancellation to a small percentage of borrowers, most are still waiting for relief as the president considers potential models for broader cancellation. Regardless of what the administration decides with respect to cancellation, much remains to be done to reform the college funding and student loan servicing systems to end the student debt crisis.

The student debt crisis is particularly dire for Black borrowers. Black degree-seekers are more likely to take out student loans to pay for higher education than white students, and they carry the largest average student loan debt of all racial demographics in the nation. Additionally, workforce inequities leave college-educated Black workers with higher rates of un- and underemployment and lower earnings than similarly educated white peers, making it even harder for these borrowers to escape from the burden of student loan debt. Black students are also more likely to leave college without a degree, leaving them saddled with student loan debt without the benefits of a degree. As a result, the higher education system has not served as a great equalizer to provide populations with lower wealth and lower incomes a path for socioeconomic mobility. Instead, like all other major U.S. institutions, the higher education system has perpetuated and exacerbated existing inequities, particularly when it comes to race.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created even more barriers to both postsecondary success and workers’ economic stability, and Black Americans are still struggling to make a full economic recovery. The pause on student loan payments has temporarily eased the financial stress of student debt for millions of borrowers during the public health emergency. However, this relief is only temporary. Without broad-based cancellation and reforms to the student loan and federal student aid systems, the U.S. higher education system will continue to hinder, rather than support, Black Americans’ economic mobility.

In this paper, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) explore the disproportionate impact of student debt on Black borrowers. We also make recommendations to address the dual student loan and college affordability crises through federal policies and executive action. These steps include administrative action to extend the student loan payment pause; ensure a smooth transition of loan accounts to new servicers; provide increased protections for borrowers, particularly those who are victims of predatory lending and for-profit colleges; improve existing repayment options, including Income-Driven Repayment (IDR); and invest in college affordability through federal grants like the Pell Grant, a federal free community college program, and support for student basic needs.

>> Read the full report here

By Amy Norton

People with lingering debt also had higher blood levels of CRP. That’s an important finding, McDade said, since it links student debt to a biological marker of chronic inflammation — though it doesn’t prove the strain of debt is the cause.

The findings were published May 3 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Other research has tied student debt to serious mental health tolls, according to J. Geiman, a policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington, D.C.

For example, a 2021 survey found that 1 in 14 high-debt student loan borrowers had ever thought about suicide due to the financial burden.

Student debt is also a matter of health equity, said Geiman, who was not involved in the new study: Black Americans, on average, take out more student loans and borrow more money, while reaping fewer rewards — with lower college graduation rates than most other racial and ethnic groups. So, they are more likely to bear the substantial downsides of borrowing.

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By Christian Collins

It’s Community College Month, which is a great time for policymakers to consider how to support the more than 40 percent of undergraduate students who attend community colleges. At the federal level, President Biden’s proposed FY2023 federal budget takes a strong step toward increased national investment in higher education by boosting funds for the Pell Grant program and minority-serving institutions such as HBCUs. Noticeably absent, however, is any momentum toward universal free community college. The lack of federal movement presents a challenge for advocates of expanding educational opportunities. However, states and municipalities have countered by passing or expanding their own programs to provide tuition-free higher educational opportunities.

Chief among recent advances for tuition-free education programs is the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship Act signed into law last month. The Act has the distinction of being the only state-funded scholarship program in the nation that 1) is available to both recent high school graduates and returning adult learners, 2) can be used for full-time and part-time studies, and 3) can be used for training certificates in addition to associate and bachelor’s degrees. The program covers full tuition and fees at in-state public higher education institutions, and the scholarship lets students “stack” other aid received through federal aid or private scholarships to obtain additional funds to cover other expenses, such as housing, child care, and books.

Current Status of State-based Free Tuition Programs

Because New Mexico already had a previous version of its Opportunity Scholarship in place before last month’s expansion, it is not a new entry among the 23 states with at least some version of a state-funded tuition program. All 23 programs can be used to cover tuition costs for 2 years at a community college, but 6 programs limit eligibility to associate degrees from “in-demand” or “high-demand” degree fields. New Mexico’s expanded Opportunity Scholarship has made it the fourth state to cover both two-year and four-year degrees.

State-Based Tuition Assistance Programs by Program Type[1]

Students’ ability to stack the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship with other financial aid creates new educational pathways for students with lower incomes. This provision makes it a “first-dollar” program, meaning that it covers tuition and fees upfront and allows students to use other aid sources to cover other expenses. First-dollar programs are more advantageous and flexible for students than “last-dollar” programs, which are less expensive for states and, therefore, more common. Last-dollar programs are often unavailable for students with lower incomes since they only provide funding where federal and state grants fall short in covering tuition and fees, leaving no extra funds for students to use for other expenses associated with higher education such as housing and child care.

First- and Last-Dollar Programs by State[2]

States and localities seeking to implement their own tuition assistance programs should strive for first-dollar programs. Providing less assistance through a last-dollar model can cause students to take on some debt that such programs are meant to avoid, which disproportionately affects students who have lower incomes—particularly first-generation students and students of color. Eliminating community college tuition through first-dollar programs also provides a lifeline for institutions recovering from pandemic-caused enrollment decreases, as tuition assistance is estimated to bring a 26 percent overall enrollment increase in higher education, and 86 percent of that increase for community colleges would be from students who otherwise would not be able to enroll.

Community colleges are a key avenue for postsecondary participation and credential attainment for Black and Latinx students. First-dollar programs would be a lifeline for the 82 percent of Black and 76 percent of Latinx students at public two-year institutions with unmet financial need when factoring in all expenses associated with higher education.

Tuition is a Regressive Barrier to Higher Education

In the face of federal inaction on tuition assistance, states have stepped up to counter the impacts of reduced funding of state-level education over the past several decades. This intervention is important, given that a 10 percent increase in institutional funding can lead to a 14.5 percent increase in degree and certificate completion at public 2-year colleges.  Tuition-assistance programs, which are part of a moral obligation to remedy the harmful cuts to state education funding, can serve in partnership with potential student loan forgiveness programs to reduce student costs and prevent new student loan debt. While necessary, tuition programs are not a complete solution to disparities in higher education. Potential students from communities historically denied higher educational opportunities still need access to knowledge about programs they are eligible for and encouragement from advisors, faculty, and other college officials to apply for these programs and pursue higher education. Though not the complete solution, the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship Act is a prime example for other states and localities on how to break down financial barriers for students of all backgrounds and economic status.


[1] Source: Data taken from NerdWallet analysis (with updated status for New Mexico): States With Free College Programs – NerdWallet

[2] Source: CLASP analysis of data compiled by NerdWallet (with updated status for New Mexico): States With Free College Programs – NerdWallet