Biden’s Plan for Student Debt and Education Policy

Education has become a major issue in the 2020 presidential election, driven in part by the growing burden of student loan debt. About 42 million Americans currently owe money on student loans, according to the Brookings Institution, which estimates the total debt load at about $1.5 trillion. That makes it second only to mortgage debt, Brookings says, and larger than credit card debt. This article looks at Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s higher-ed proposals, which his official campaign website calls “The Biden Plan for Education Beyond High School.” 

Key Takeaways

  • Joe Biden’s higher education proposals would make public colleges and universities tuition free for families with incomes under $125,000.
  • Community college and workforce training programs would also be free for many students.
  • Students with federal undergraduate loans would not have to pay more than 5% of their discretionary income over $25,000. After 20 years of payments, the balance would be forgiven.

Biden’s Student Debt Proposals

The Biden website lists 10 major initiatives to address the cost of higher education and the availability of financial aid to help pay for it.

1. “Make public colleges and universities tuition-free for all families with incomes below $125,000.” Biden credits this proposal to Sen. Bernie Sanders, who, with Rep. Pramila Jayapal, introduced the College for All Act in 2017.  Biden’s plan would also make up to two years of community college tuition free, apparently regardless of income.

2. “Target additional financial support to low-income and middle-class individuals.” Biden proposes to double the maximum value of Pell Grants and significantly increase the number of Americans who qualify for them. Unlike student loans, Pell Grants never need to be repaid, except in rare instances. The current maximum Pell Grant is $6,345 per school year.  Biden’s plan would also make Dreamers eligible for financial aid if they meet other requirements for that aid and restore financial aid eligibility to people who were formerly incarcerated. 

3. “More than halve payments on undergraduate federal student loans by simplifying and increasing the generosity of today’s income-based repayment program.” Borrowers who make $25,000 or less a year wouldn’t have to make payments on their undergraduate federal student loans, and those loans wouldn’t accrue interest. Others would pay 5% of their discretionary income over $25,000 toward their loans. After 20 years of regular payments, the remaining balance on the loan would be forgiven. Biden’s plan would also change the tax code to make debt that’s forgiven through an income-based repayment plan nontaxable.

4. “Make loan forgiveness work for public servants.” Biden proposes to revamp the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, launched in 2007, which has failed to deliver relief for many applicants. He would also create a new program to provide $10,000 of undergraduate or graduate student debt relief for every year of national or community service the applicant performs, up to five years.

5. “Create a ‘Title I for postsecondary education’ to help students at under-resourced four-year schools complete their degrees.” This initiative