Former Vice President Joe Biden announced his policy for higher education Tuesday morning, laying out a plan to grant two years of free community college to students, and invest $50 billion in high-quality job training programs.
The Biden campaign said that passing legislation to give free access to community college courses would cut the cost of a four-year degree in half. But Biden’s policy shows a sharp contrast between the former vice president and his two top competitors in the polls: Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who have both proposed making four-year public universities free.
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Biden has a close connection to community colleges, as his wife, Dr. Jill Biden is a lifelong educator and currently a professor at Northern Virginia Community College. On a call with reporters, Dr. Biden, who had a significant role in shaping Biden’s proposal, talked up the plan as reflective of what she hears from her students about needed educational reforms, and discussed how the plan will benefit the American economy overall.
“What means the most to me is that it comes from listening to educators and students — not telling them what we think they need. It goes beyond tuition and supports a holistic approach to retention and completion,” Biden said.
“When my students have the support they need to actually finish their degrees, they aren’t the only ones who benefit,” she continued. “Their kids do better in school, their families can go from just paying the bills to actually planning for the future and their employers are able to fill critical jobs.”
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Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at the SEIU Unions For All Summit on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, in Los Angeles.
The plan makes official several policies the former vice president often discusses on the trail about student debt as well. Biden’s policy includes his plan for reducing student loan debt obligations for students who go into the public service sector, allowing $10,000 of undergrad or graduate debt relief per year for up to five years of service.
Biden would also double the maximum amount of Pell grants available to students, including Dreamers, and would allow students making less than $25,000 a year to defer payments on their federal loans without accruing interest. Any student making more than $25,000 would pay 5% of their discretionary income toward their loans rather than the current 10% owed.
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The plan would be paid for through the elimination of the stepped-up basis loophole, a type of break on inheritance taxes, and capping itemized deductions for wealthy Americans at 28%, according to the campaign.
None of his plan goes as far as those put forward by Sanders and Warren, who have proposed canceling all or close to all student debt, part of what has earned them tags as being more progressive. But senior advisers for Biden pushed back on the notion that Biden’s plan was not as aggressive as his competitors.
Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a forum held by gun safety organizations the Giffords group and March For Our Lives in Las Vegas, Oct. 2, 2019.
“We reject any premise that his plan is not equally bold as those plans,” an adviser told reporters on a call previewing the policy. The Biden plan reflects the vice president and Dr. Biden’s deep commitment to making sure every child in this country can pursue a bachelor’s degree, but that every child also has a choice between training leading to an industry credential community college, or a four-year program.
“We think of this as a bold solution to grow the middle class and that this is what makes sense for the reason the vice president is running, which is to rebuild the backbone of this country, the middle class and this time make sure that everyone has a chance to come along.”
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Another major difference between Biden and his competitors’ plans is the cost. Biden’s plan would cost $750 billion over 10 years, a much smaller sum than Sanders’ plan, which calls for $1.6 trillion for student loan forgiveness alone, and Warren’s plan, which carries a price tag of $1.25 trillion.
Biden’s plan would also allocate $70 billion for investments in historically black colleges and universities, minority-serving institutions and tribal colleges and universities.