Biden higher ed plan features free community college, larger Pell Grants

Former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has released his plan for higher education, asserting that “12 years of education is no longer enough for American workers to remain competitive and earn a middle-class income.”

Biden’s plan outlines a range of proposals to invest in community colleges, reduce the debt burden, and support historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs).

The proposals include:

  • Doubling the maximum value of the Pell Grant and restoring incarcerated students’ Pell-eligibility.
  • Ensuring access to two free years of community or technical college. Part-time students, undocumented young adults who came to the U.S. as children, and adult learners would be eligible.
  • Making the free-tuition program a “first-dollar” program so students can use Pell Grants and other aid to cover expenses beyond tuition and fees.
  • Establishing emergency aid funds for community college students experiencing financial challenges that threaten completion.
  • Creating a grant program to encourage implementation of evidence-based practices that boost completion.
  • Investing $50 billion in workforce training, including apprenticeships and partnerships between community colleges and businesses.
  • Halving payments on undergraduate federal student loans, in part by waiving $10,000 per year for those with public service jobs and capping loan payments at five percent of discretionary income above $25,000.   
  • Providing more than $70 billion for HBCUs, tribal colleges and universities, and other MSIs to reduce tuition, bolster infrastructure, and create research incubators.

The proposal would cost $750 billion over 10 years, offset by “eliminating the stepped-up basis loophole and capping the itemized deductions the wealthiest Americans can take to 28 percent,” according to his campaign.

Contrasting the candidates’ proposals

CNN notes that Biden’s plan “builds on the existing higher education framework,” unlike the “further-reaching proposals” released by his Democratic rival candidates, Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The two senators have proposed eliminating tuition and fees at public four-year institutions and community colleges. Biden’s proposal focuses on community colleges and would have the federal government cover 75 percent of the tuition costs (95 percent at tribal colleges and universities serving low-income students), while states would be responsible for the remainder, according to The New York Times. 

Biden also splits with his top Democratic rivals on student debt. Sanders would like to eliminate student loan debt, while Warren has proposed cancelling $50,000 in debt for those with a household income of under $100,000. Biden’s debt-reduction proposals include guaranteeing that those earning less than $25,000 owe nothing on their undergraduate federal student loans and forgiving debt left over after 20 years of payments.

Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, who is a community college professor, spoke with reporters on a conference call about the new plan. “My students inspire me,” she said. “They’re single parents and veterans. They juggle multiple jobs and care for their families. Many of them are first-generation college students. They work so hard and ask for only one thing in return: opportunity. And every American deserves that.”

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