When Veronica Bumpus had the chance to attend college for free, right after high school, she didn’t take it seriously, she says. She had been in the West Virginia foster care system from age 12 to 18 and could have had her college tuition fully paid, through the Chafee Education and Training Voucher program in her state. At the time, she was struggling both mentally and physically and didn’t see college as an option. But once she gave birth to her son, Bryson, she knew she wanted to get a college degree in human services. She felt called to a profession in social work, inspired by those who helped her while she was in foster care.
But by then, because 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 full time at a rehabilitation center to support her family.
“I’m here advocating for all the single mothers who are trying to change their life and do better,” said Bumpus, 27, at a protest on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., that called on lawmakers to pass legislation making community college in America tuition free.
If Bumpus hadn’t had scholarship money and taken out loans, it would have cost roughly half of her yearly income to attend BridgeValley Community & Technical College, in South Charleston, W. Va., she said. She worries about how she will afford tuition next year, when she transfers to a four-year institution. She hopes to attend West Virginia State University.
Last week, President Biden told Democratic lawmakers that tuition-free community college would probably be cut from his infrastructure spending package, dealing a blow to college students and their advocates. Biden has been working with Congress to scale down the bill from $3.5 trillion over 10 years to between $1.75 and $1.9 billion, in an attempt to placate moderate Democrats, notably Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who have said they won’t support the original proposal.
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