U.S. Senator Deb Fischer, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, recently joined five of her Senate colleagues to introduce the Community College Agriculture Advancement Act.
The bipartisan bill would authorize funding for community college workforce training, education, and research programs in agriculture. U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) led the introduction of the legislation.
Many community colleges already offer training for the agricultural industry workforce, but the lawmaker said community college agricultural programs have been excluded from federal funding opportunities. The Community College Agriculture Advancement Act would aim to correct this flaw, ensuring that community colleges can access federal grants to bolster agricultural programs.
Fischer said community colleges are vital to Nebraska’s ag economy, and the legislation would ensure community colleges receive federal resources to expand their workforce training initiatives in the community.
Lea Barrett, Northeast Community College president, said agriculture accounts for nearly 50% of all employment and 46% of the gross regional product in northeast Nebraska. She said the college recently added precision agriculture and cybersecurity programs, and federal funding would help support such programs.
The Senators’ bill would amend the National Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching Policy Act of 1977 to allow community colleges to access grant money for agriculture programs. The bill would establish a competitive U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant program in which the nation’s nearly 1,100 community colleges could apply for money to fund workforce training, education, research, and outreach programs in agriculture.
Specifically, a community college that receives a program grant could use the funding to:
- Successfully compete for funds from federal grants and other sources to carry out educational, research, and outreach activities.
- Disseminate information relating to agriculture, renewable resources, and other relevant communities.
- Encourage collaboration involving community colleges, land grant universities, and other higher education institutions.
- Purchase equipment and other infrastructure.
- Advance the professional growth and development of faculty.
- Develop apprenticeships and other work-based learning opportunities.
In addition to Senators Fischer and Hickenlooper, the legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D- Minn.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). U.S. Representatives Trent Kelly (R-Miss.) and Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) led the introduction of companion legislation in the House.