Joe Biden’s Plans for Higher Ed

John David

CounterCurrent: Week of 10/4


Decision 2020 is just under a month away, and “election fever” is in full effect—well, as much as it can be during a pandemic. The first debate was heated and the next will likely follow suit. Both candidates and their running mates continue to throw rhetorical jabs at each other on a near-daily basis. Even professional sports leagues, while ostensibly non-partisan, have inundated viewers with pleas to “VOTE” and “Make your voice heard.” It’s clear that, for many, the long-term future of our country, and even our democracy as a whole, is at stake.

Higher education, while not typically a hot-button issue that will command much debate time, is nonetheless on the November ballot. Each candidate has his own agenda, Trump’s being more or less a continuation of his first-term reforms and Biden’s, naturally, pointing in a very different direction. The National Association of Scholars does not endorse either candidate, nor have we ever. And yet it is part of our responsibility to comment on the president’s actions as they are germane to our work, as well as on how candidates are likely to shape higher education if elected into office.

This week, we will look at Democratic challenger Joe Biden’s policy proposals in particular, saving President Trump’s for a later date.

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s higher education plan is called “The Biden Plan for Education Beyond High School.” The name alone implies that Biden is focused on different kinds of postsecondary education, not only four-year college. His proposals center on facilitating socioeconomic mobility by directing federal funds toward educational flexibility and student loan relief. Think a continuation of former President Obama’s “college is the surest ticket to the middle class” rhetoric, except perhaps somewhat further to the left in practice.

Biden’s first group of proposals falls under the heading “Invest in Community Colleges and Training to Improve Student Success and Grow a Stronger, More Prosperous, More Inclusive Middle Class.” These include dedicating $50 billion to community colleges and job training programs and pledging that every “hard-working individual” will be able to attend community college without incurring debt. What exactly this means is unclear, but it will likely take the form of some kind of federal subsidies. 

The second heading, “Strengthen College as a Reliable Pathway to the Middle Class,” promises to make college tuition free for all families with an income below $125,000, double the value of Pell grants for low-income and middle-class students, and crack down on private lenders and for-profit colleges that frequently exploit desperate students, among other proposals. The third, “Support Colleges and Universities that Play Unique and Vital Roles in their Communities,” is focused on directing federal funds toward minority-serving institutions such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges And Universities (TCUs), and Hispanic-serving Institutions (HSIs). 

Biden’s plans for higher education started off moderate compared to those of his former campaign rival Bernie Sanders. However, in recent months Biden has drifted leftward in an apparent effort to unify his college-educated base, even going as far as to release joint recommendations with Senator Sanders. As in any administration, higher ed. plans are often in the clouds, but their bureaucratic appointees on the ground at the Department of Education and elsewhere will make the real changes. Will these proposals have the intended effect, or will they instead alienate those in the center-left? Election day will hold the answer, and the NAS will be watching.


CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Administrative Associate John David. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Michael Stokes, Public Domain

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