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How Democratic presidential candidates want to change higher education

University of Michigan

As Michigan’s March 10 presidential primary approaches, Democratic candidates agree that earning a degree or training after high school should be more affordable and that Americans need help getting out of student loan debt.

But the candidates have different plans on how to get there.

Here are the plans of the active Democratic presidential candidates on how they would make higher education more affordable: 

Joe Biden

Community college is at the center of the former vice president’s vision for higher education. He proposes covering tuition at two-year programs with a mix of federal and state grants, with additional money to help community colleges support students and retain teachers, and $8 billion in campus capital improvements. 

On student debt, Biden proposes various repayment assistance programs, including $10,000 of loan forgiveness annually for every year of qualifying public service employment. He also wants to double the maximum level of Pell Grants, put $50 billion into workforce training programs; and invest $70.5 billion in the coming years in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and minority-serving institutions. Biden proposes paying for these programs by capping itemized deductions on wealthy Americans to 28 percent and eliminating the stepped-up basis loophole. Read Biden’s plan

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

The Vermont senator wants to cancel all existing student debt, use federal grants to cover tuition at all public post-secondary programs, cap student loan interest rates below 2 percent, and invest another $1.3 billion in HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions. Sanders already introduced the College for All Act in 2017 would eliminate tuition for “students at community colleges and two-year tribal colleges and universities.” His education platform also proposes increased assistance for non-tuition costs of attending school (like food and books) and for the Work-Study Program, a federal program that provides students with part-time jobs. Sanders proposes instituting a series of taxes on stock trades to cover the costs of these programs. Read Sanders’ plan


Tulsi Gabbard

The Hawaiian representative supports lowering the cost of post-secondary programs and reforming student loan regulations. She is a co-sponsor of the house version of the College for All Act, which would establish a federal grant program to cover tuition and fees at community colleges and two-year programs. The first female combat veteran to run for president is also the co-sponsor of the Private Student Loan Bankruptcy Fairness Act of 2015, which would allow student loan debt to be discharged through bankruptcy, and supports capping student loan interest rates. Read Gabbard’s plan

Editor's note: This article was updated March 5 to remove positions of candidates who have dropped out of the campaign since publication. Several candidates who have quit the race also will appear on Michigan's primary ballot.

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