How Democratic presidential candidates want to change higher education

University of Michigan

In addition to subsidized tuition and student loan reform, leading Democratic presidential candidates have talked of bolstering investment in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, increasing access to apprenticeship and trades, and expanding Pell Grants. (Bridge file photo)

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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Tue, 02/11/2020 - 10:12am

If Bridge was truly non-partisan as they always claim to be, we would have read about all the candidates and not just the democrats. But we all know that Bridge will always tilt their favorable articles toward the democrats, and if there is ever an article about Republicans, Bridge will make it as negative as possible. Despite what Bridge says, it is as lame as the lame stream media.

Joel Kurth
Tue, 02/11/2020 - 10:16am

Thanks for the comment, Arjay. Because we have a small staff, and because President Trump's renomination and Michigan primary victory are all but certain, we are focusing on Democrats' policies before the March 10 primary, as that seems to be the most helpful to our readers. After the nominations, you can be assured that we will be scrutinizing how proposals from both major parties and viable third-party candidates would affect Michigan.

Tue, 02/11/2020 - 12:25pm

So what you are saying is that most of your readers are democrats, so you will tailor your news to them. I'm sure Trump has a position on education. But I guess it is of no interest to Bridge because it isn't the same position that Bridge wants to preach. Doesn't sound very non-partisan to me. All it would have taken is one more paragraph.

middle of the mit
Tue, 02/11/2020 - 8:16pm


Calm down man. The title is about the democratic candidates. There are a plethora of them and they are the ones that are running against Donald Trump. If the MI republican party had allowed Bill Weld on the ballot I am sure there would be an article about where the republican candidates stood on the issue, but they didn't and everyone knows what Besty Devos' ideas are.

Pay up!

And if you get screwed by Trump University?

Pay up!

Tue, 02/11/2020 - 12:52pm

Stow your pointless sea-lioning. Trump is going to be the GOP nominee. Despite your impotent meeting, you're still here reading Bridge, despite their reprehensible disposition for the factual reporting that casts the GOP as the underhanded dogs they are.

Tue, 02/11/2020 - 1:21pm

Didn't this used to be called vote buying? Student loan debtors, perspective students and college/university staff make a pretty strong voter base to try to cater for.

Tue, 02/11/2020 - 11:17pm

Not when they spending other people's money.
Especially when it is taxes of those who felt responsible for their education, responsibility for paying off their loans, responsible to earn a degree that they could turn into a well paying job, and worked to gain financial stability.

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 4:53pm

Yes, Matt, that is vote buying. And I, in no way endorse free college (or anything else free, for the most part), but that doesn't mean that I could ever vote for a person as stupid and venal as Trump. How could he possibly have a position on education??? He has already expressed his love for the uneducated for they are the bulk of his supporters. He has appointed another uneducated person, Betsy DeVos to burn down the Department of Education like every other department to which he's appointed an out of touch flame thrower. Look deep into Betsy DeVos's eyes and you will see the other side of her skull. Nothing there. No knowledge and has no sense of mission to improve her department. And better education for Michigan can't be done without a tax increase because we can't attract enough people to even want to work as a teacher here. Pay them and they will come.

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 9:59pm

Subee, once again Michigan has had amongst the highest paid teachers in the country especially relative to our cost of living. Aside from childish insults, tell what has this gotten us. Do you have any evidence that k -12 Ed has improved since the Dept of Ed established? I didn't think so.

middle of the mit
Wed, 02/12/2020 - 11:43pm


While I don't think this is vote buying anymore than tax cuts for the wealthy is, that would not be Matt's take on the situation.

The reason that I don't think that offering reduced prices is vote buying is because with reduced costs for education, it benefits those businesses that Matt is soooo worried about how much they pay in taxes. And yet they won't pay for any of the benefit. In fact they have had 9 years of a $2Billion dollar per year tax cut not to mention the Trump tax cuts.

None the less, You made me LOL with your comment. Kudos to this line: "Look deep into Betsy DeVos's eyes and you will see the other side of her skull. Nothing there. No knowledge and has no sense of mission to improve her department."

The only other thing I could add is that there is something there, and it is dollar signs. Mammon is what she worships.

Thanks for the laugh though.