This morning, presidential candidate Joe Biden released his comprehensive plan for higher education. Before today, the former Vice President had only mentioned pieces of his proposal on the campaign trail. This plan is a more moderate proposal compared to those of Senators Warren and Sanders. There are many components of this plan, but below are three things to note from his release.
Investing In Community Colleges
The former Vice President has long been a champion for community colleges. His wife and former Second Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, has been a community college professor for years and advocated for them from the White House. As President, Biden would continue this advocacy by making some major investments in community college education. First, he would make two years of community college tuition-free—as proposed in the Obama Administration. Biden’s proposal would be a first-dollar program, meaning low-income students could then use their Pell Grants to cover living cost—a more significant expense. Biden also would create a new grant program to help implement evidence-based practices to improve student outcomes and provided needed supports, like advising. He also proposed investing $50 billion into workforce training. This would help create high-quality training programs and could be used to invest in apprenticeships. Biden’s plan mentions the possibility of short-term programs, but he should be cautious as these programs often do not lead to family-sustaining wages and have some unfortunate equity concerns.
Investing In Pell Grants
Biden properly recognizes that college costs have increased and that has significantly hurt low- and moderate-income students who receive Pell Grants. While the Pell Grant was meant to increase access to higher education and make it more affordable for those students with fewer resources, it hasn’t kept up with the cost of college. For that reason Biden says he will double the maximum Pell Grant award. Furthermore, he will automatically increase the grant based on inflation. Importantly, he will also allow DREAMers access if they are eligible. Biden also says he will restore eligibility for Pell Grants to formerly incarcerated individuals. It’s unclear what is meant by this because most formerly incarcerated people can already access Pell Grants. Many advocates will question why he does not go as far as allowing currently incarcerated individuals from receiving Pell, as proposals from Senators Schatz and Alexander would do. Even Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is supportive of this idea. Restoration of their eligibility for those currently incarcerated is a much needed fix since it was banned in the 1994 crime bill that Biden shepherded through Congress.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness Reform
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program—known as PSLF—has had a rocky roll-out at best. With strict rules and poor implementation, 99% of applicants have been rejected for forgiveness. Biden would reform this program for the future by allowing $10,000 of forgiveness for every year of working in public service—up to five years. He would also allow up to five years of prior service to qualify. Biden said he would also fix the existing program by passing the What You Can Do For Your Country Act from Senators Gillibrand and Kaine.
The former vice president proposed many more ideas including reformed income-based repayment, regulating for-profits, investing in HBCUs and MSIs, and a Title I for postsecondary education—which I have previously proposed. Some of these are policies the Obama Administration proposed while others are an expansion or a new program. It will be interesting to see how he uses this plan on the campaign trail and how voters are receptive of the more moderate approach.