Democratic Candidates on Higher Education

Rachelle Peterson

Democratic candidates for president are talking a lot about higher education. How do the many "free college" plans compare? Who has proposed forgiving student loan debt? What do the candidates think of for-profit institutions? What have they said about vocational training? 

Today, NAS releases a chart comparing the top five Democratic contenders across ten policy issues. Over time, we'll add more candidates and more issues. 

Click on a candidate's name to find out what Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg have planned for higher education if they become President of the United States. You may also download an excel file with all the same information included in the list below. 

Download the Chart

Joe Biden

Free College

Make community college free for everyone: “Send everybody to a community college for free, cutting in half the cost of their four-year education” - New Hampshire campaign stop, May 2019. Source

Debt Forgiveness

Freeze debt payments for those making less than $25,000 a year. Source

How to Pay for New Spending on Higher Education: (no comment)

Other Proposals on Student Debt

"Fix" Public Service Loan Forgiveness, under which borrowers who make ten years of payments while working for a government or nonprofit agency have the remainder of their student debt forgiven.  "Biden will see to it that the existing Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is fixed, simplified, and actually helps teachers." Source

Believes More People Should Go to College?

Yes. "The middle class isn’t a number—it’s a set of values (such as) … sending your kids to college. … Across the country, too many families are being left behind." Source

Affirmative Action

Reinstate the Obama-era guidance on affirmative action, which declared racial preferences a compelling state interest. Source

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)

Work "with historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions to recruit and prepare teachers." Source

For Profit Colleges: (no comment)

Vocational Training

Invest an undefined amount: "The Biden Administration will invest in school vocational training and partnerships between high schools, community colleges, and employers." Source

Other:

  • "Biden will invest in and allow Pell grants to be used for dual enrollment programs, so high school students can take classes at a community college and earn college credits or a credential prior to graduating from high school."  Source.
  • His plan on climate change includes providing "significant funding" to "research universities, community colleges, incubators and accelerators, manufacturing institutes and employers, unions, and state and local governments" to help their region develop "competitive and low-carbon future in manufacturing."  Source.

Bernie Sanders

Free College

  • Make all public colleges and universities, tribal colleges, trade schools, and apprenticeships free for everyone, and make private Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions free for all low-income students.  "Pass the College for All Act to provide at least $48 billion per year to eliminate tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities, tribal colleges, community colleges, trade schools, and apprenticeship programs." No tuition remission at most private institutions, but would "Provide $1.3 billion to private, nonprofit HBCUs and MSIs every year to eliminate or significantly reduce tuition and fees for low-income students." Source
  • Provide additional funding for low-income students to cover non-tuition costs: "Provide Pell Grants to low-income students to cover the non-tuition and fee costs of school, including: housing, books, supplies, transportation, and other costs of living. Require participating states and tribes to cover the full cost of obtaining a degree for low-income students (normally those with a family income of less than $25,000) by covering any gap that may still exist after we eliminate tuition, fees, and grants. We will match any additional spending from states and tribes which reduces the cost of attending school at a dollar for dollar rate. This funding goes beyond closing the cost gap – participating states and tribes could use this money to hire additional faculty, ensure professors get professional development opportunities, and increase students’ access to educational opportunities. Triple funding for the Work-Study Program." Source

Debt Forgiveness "Cancel all existing student debt." "Cancel the entire $1.6 trillion in outstanding student debt for the 45 million borrowers who are weighed down by the crushing burden of student debt. " Why? "Bernie believes our country is morally bound to close the racial wealth divide. In order to do that we are going to cancel all student debt….Seventy-three percent of the benefits of cancelling all student debt will go to the bottom 80 percent of Americans, who are making less than $127,000 a year."

How to Pay for New Spending on Higher Education

A Wall Street tax: "This Wall Street speculation tax will raise $2.4 trillion over the next ten years.  It works by placing a 0.5 percent tax on stock trades – 50 cents on every $100 of stock –  a 0.1 percent fee on bond trades, and a 0.005 percent fee on derivative trades." Source.

Other Proposals on Student Debt

"We will cap student loan interest rates at 1.88 percent." Source

Believes More People Should Go to College?

Yes. "Higher education should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few. ...Double funding for the TRIO Programs and increases funding for the GEAR UP Program so more low-income students, students with disabilities, and first-generation students can attend and graduate college with a degree." Source

Affirmative Action

  • "We are going to end the racial and class disparities that persist throughout higher education." Source
  • "Fully fund the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and remove current protocols that allow for arbitrary dismissal of complaints." Source

HBCUs

"Provide $1.3 billion to private, nonprofit HBCUs and MSIs every year to eliminate or significantly reduce tuition and fees for low-income students." Source

For-profit Colleges (no comment)

Vocational Training

"Eliminate tuition and fees at ... trade schools, and apprenticeship programs." Source

Other

"Protect women from harassment, discrimination, and violence in educational institutions by protecting and enforcing Title IX" (no further detail). Source

Elizabeth Warren

Free College

Make public two-year and four-year colleges free for everyone "Give every American the opportunity to attend a  two-year or four-year public college without paying a dime in tuition or fees... The federal government will partner with states to split the costs of tuition and fees and ensure that states maintain their current levels of funding on need-based financial aid and academic instruction." Help cover non-tuition costs: "Invest an additional $100 billion over the next ten years in Pell Grants — and expand who is eligible for a Grant — to make sure lower-income and middle-class students have a better chance of graduating without debt. " "Private HBCUs and MSIs would also be able to opt into the federal free-tuition program available to public colleges." Source

Debt Forgiveness

Her plan "cancels $50,000 in student loan debt for every person with household income under $100,000. It provides substantial debt cancellation for every person with household income between $100,000 and $250,000. The $50,000 cancellation amount phases out by $1 for every $3 in income above $100,000, so, for example, a person with household income of $130,000 gets $40,000 in cancellation, while a person with household income of $160,000 gets $30,000 in cancellation." This includes private debt. And "canceled debt will not be taxed as income." Source

How to Pay for New Spending on Higher Education

"Experts estimate my debt cancellation plan creates a one-time cost to the government of $640 billion. The Universal Free College program brings the total cost of the program to roughly $1.25 trillion over ten years." "The entire cost of my broad debt cancellation plan and universal free college is more than covered by my Ultra-Millionaire Tax — a 2% annual tax on the 75,000 families with $50 million or more in wealth." Source

Other Proposals on Student Debt (no comment)

Believes More People Should Go to College?

Yes "Like K-12 education, college is a basic need that should be available for free to everyone who wants to go." Source

Affirmative Action

"Make additional federal funding available to states that demonstrate substantial improvement in enrollment and graduation rates for lower-income students and students of color." "Require public colleges to complete an annual audit that identifies issues creating shortfalls in enrollment and graduation rates for lower-income students and students of color and that proposes steps to improve those rates." Source

HBCUs

"Create a fund for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs). The fund will have a minimum of $50 billion, but the Secretary of Education will have the authority to increase the amount of money in the fund as needed to ensure that spending per-student at those schools is comparable to colleges in the area. Private HBCUs and MSIs would also be able to opt into the federal free-tuition program available to public colleges." Source

For-profit Colleges

"After an appropriate transition period, ban for-profit colleges from receiving any federal dollars (including military benefits and federal student loans)." Source

Vocational Training

"We currently invest $200 million annually in apprenticeship programs. We should increase that tenfold and make a $20 billion commitment to apprenticeship programs for the next ten years." Source

Other

  • "Prohibit public colleges from considering citizenship status or criminal history in admissions decisions." Source
  • "Establish a diplomatic equivalent of the ROTC program at universities across the country. " Source
  • Focus research and development spending "in every part of the country — not just the coasts — by sending money to consortiums of land grant universities, to targets situated in rural areas, and to areas that have seen the worst job losses in recent years." Source

Kamala Harris

Free College

  • Make community college free, and make four-year public colleges, HBCUs, and MSIs debt-free: "Make community college free, make four-year public college debt-free, and provide an income boost to nearly 1 in 7 Pell Grant recipients through her LIFT Act, the largest tax cut for working Americans in generations." Source
  • "As president, she’ll continue her lifelong commitment to these landmark institutions (Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs))by making attendance debt-free for students." Source

Debt Forgiveness

Would "establish a student loan debt forgiveness program for Pell grant recipients who start a business that operates for three years in disadvantaged communities. Participants can have up to $20,000 of debt forgiven and can defer all of their student loans, interest-free, during a business-formation period that can last for as many as three years." Source

How to Pay for New Spending on Higher Education (no comment)

Other Proposals on Student Debt

Proposes "immediately allowing current debt holders to refinance high-interest loans to lower rates, expanding Income Based Repayment (IBR) to ensure no student pays more than they can afford" Source.

Believes More People Should Go to College? (no comment)

Affirmative Action (no comment)

HBCUs

  • Wants "$2.5 billion to support HBCU programs that will generate Black teachers." Source
  • Wants "$60 billion in STEM education at HBCUs and other MSIs" including a "$10 billion infrastructure grant program" and $50 billion  "to fund undergraduate and graduate scholarships, fellowships and internships for students, as well as the institutional and curricular support STEM students need on their pathway to success. Funds can also be used for cutting-edge research equipment as well as training and supporting faculty, lab technicians, and post-doctoral fellows." Source
  • "Should our children decide to pursue college, Kamala believes that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) should be available to them if they choose. As a graduate of Howard University, Kamala knows firsthand the role HBCUs and MSIs play in shaping identity and building community. In the Senate, Kamala fought to pass her HBCU Historic Preservation Reauthorization Bill to rebuild HBCU campus infrastructure, and co-sponsored legislation to permanently increase funding for MSIs. As president she’ll continue her lifelong commitment to these landmark institutions by making attendance debt-free for students and making a multi-billion investment in programs that teach the next generation of leaders of color." Source

For-profit Colleges

Kamala's website touts her history of "cracking down on for-profit colleges and lenders that defraud our students. As Attorney General, Kamala took on Corinthian Colleges, one of the largest for-profit college scams in the country, and obtained more than $1 billion in relief for students and veterans." Source

Vocational Training (no comment)

Other (no comment)

Pete Buttigieg

Free College

Make public colleges debt-free for low-income students. "Debt-free college" is listed first on his higher education agenda as the "Key Policy." "For lower-income families, we must make public college truly debt-free. We can do this through a state-federal partnership that makes public tuition affordable for all and completely free at lower incomes — combined with a large increase in Pell Grants that provides for basic living expenses and keeps up with inflation. Middle-income families at public colleges will pay zero tuition." Source

Debt Forgiveness

  • Forgive the debt of students at "low-quality" programs, starting with those that failed the Gainful Employment Rule. "We will cancel the debts of borrowers in low-quality, overwhelmingly for-profit programs beginning with those that failed federal “gainful employment” rules designed to ensure students receive an adequate return on their investments where the federal government should never have allowed students to enroll." Debt forgiveness for Pell Grant students who start a business: "We will introduce the Walker-Lewis Debt-for-Jobs Plan to help students start businesses. Every student who was eligible for Pell Grants while in school will have his or her college loans deferred and forgiven over a five-year period if they start and maintain a business employing at least three people within five years of leaving school. " Source
  • Possible debt forgiveness for those who complete a service fellowship: "Consideration for public service student debt forgiveness, vocational training, and hiring preference for service fellows." Source

How to Pay for New Spending on Higher Education (no comment)

Other Proposals on Student Debt (no comment)

Believes More People Should Go to College? (no comment)

Affirmative Action

Special funding for "college programs to increase readiness and competitiveness for Black Women and men in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and fields of growing employment opportunities, especially health professions, software, finance, and alternative energy." Source

HBCUs

$25 billion in new funding: "We will increase dedicated resources by $25 billion for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority-Serving Institutions." Source

For-profit Colleges

  • "We will cancel the debts of borrowers in low-quality, overwhelmingly for-profit programs beginning with those that failed federal “gainful employment” rules designed to ensure students receive an adequate return on their investments where the federal government should never have allowed students to enroll."  Source
  • "Apply strict standards to for-profit higher education institutions. Source

Vocational Training

  • "Military service, Peace Corps service, and domestic service-year opportunities through efforts like AmeriCorps should be expanded until service becomes a universal expectation for every American youth. “A New Call to Service” aims to quadruple service opportunities to 1 million high school graduates by 2026." Source
  • "Fund the Serve America Act to increase paid service opportunities from 75,000 to 250,000 in the existing federal and AmeriCorps grantee organizations and through new Service Year Fellowships, targeting high school, community college, vocational, HBCUs and MSI students, and opportunity youth (out of school and work)....Consideration for public service student debt forgiveness, vocational training, and hiring preference for service fellows." "Pete's Vision Our intention is for this proposal to create a pathway towards a universal, national expectation of service for all 4 million high school graduates every year, such that the first question asked of every college freshman or new hire is: “where did you serve?” A new generation of American youth, bound by mutual service and sacrifice, aware of the common values that bind all Americans, influenced by the experience of doing real work with people across races, politics, faiths, income levels, and gender identities, and imbued with an appreciation of the effort required to maintain a democracy can help heal a divided nation."  Source

Other

"We will restore Pell Grant access to people who are incarcerated." Source

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