Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden promises free community college to all, free four-year college to some, and improved student debt repayment plans.

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How Joe Biden Plans to Transform Education


  • Biden offers a more progressive approach to education than President Trump.
  • His proposal is partially modeled after Senator Bernie Sanders' plan for free college.
  • Biden promises to replace Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and roll back Title IX changes.

As the presumptive Democratic nominee in November's presidential election, Joe Biden has a strong link to education: his wife. A 30-year education vet, Dr. Jill Biden is an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College. According to Joe Biden, his wife's grassroots view of education informs his education policy.

Biden envisions an educational support system that strengthens social health services at schools and transforms them into community hubs. He plans to increase spending for schools and colleges that serve low-income students, but emphasizes the importance of vocational training and alternative educational pathways over making college free for all.

Biden proposes a more moderate education policy, with plans to increase spending for schools that serve low-income students.

Biden's plan for education stops short of the bolder promises made by Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris. While Sanders looked to make college free for all and cancel the $1.6 trillion in outstanding student debt, Biden proposes free college for some and more lenient repayment plans.

Biden's more moderate education policy stands out for its emphasis on teachers. The former vice president unveiled his policy at a teachers union event last May on the heels of teacher strikes and President Donald Trump's polarizing appointment of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

When asked about his idea of the right candidate to replace DeVos, Biden responded, "[S]omeone who has actually been in the classroom."

Presidntial candidate and fgormer Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event in Fort Madison, Iowa, at the end of January, 2020.

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Overview of Joe Biden's Education Policy

K-12 Teachers

Biden's education policy offers a more detailed plan than those proposed by other Democratic candidates for improving teacher pay and working conditions. Specifically, Biden promises to triple funding to K-12 schools that serve low-income students (from about $16 billion per year to $48 billion) and will require that money to initially go to teachers.

In 2018, public U.S. school teachers made 21.4% less than workers with similar educational backgrounds and experience. By offering competitive wages and benefits to educators, Biden would address decades of stagnant wages and reduced benefits among educators. While teacher pay remains low, class sizes have doubled and educators' responsibilities have grown. Many teachers spend their own money on school supplies.

Extra funding would also go to educators who lead professional development efforts or who go back to school for high-demand areas like special education and bilingual education. Biden intends to double the number of psychologists, guidance counselors, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals in schools.


Early Childhood Education

Many low-income families lack the resources and support to help their kids thrive in school. The resulting achievement gap exists "before our children even enter kindergarten," claims Biden's official campaign website.

Biden promises to invest in "all children from birth." This starts with placing an early childhood development expert in every community health center and doubling the funding for home-visit programs, which connects child development experts with families in need. Biden would ensure that all 3- and 4-year-olds have access to preschool as well.

His education policy continues to bundle education and social services beyond early childhood. Biden wants to expand wraparound support at schools, with after-school care, health and social services, and adult education courses.


Secondary Education

At present, an estimated $23 billion annual funding gap exists between white school districts and school districts in communities of color. Biden says he will work to close this gap by nearly tripling Title I funding, which goes to schools that serve a high number of low-income students.

Biden wants schools that serve low-income communities to innovate through vocational training and more “practical classes.”

Rather than simply increasing funding, though, Biden believes it's time to "reinvent high school." He wants schools that serve low-income communities and communities of color to innovate, with vocational training partnerships between high schools, community colleges, and employers, and more "practical classes" taught in high school.

According to Biden's campaign website, "Like the arts and music, vocational training can often engage students in school, encourage pride for creativity and making …" Biden wants to see the return of "shop classes" and other high school training that can lead to credentials.

He would also let Pell Grants be used for dual-enrollment programs, allowing high school students to take classes at community colleges and earn college credits or even a credential prior to graduating from high school.

Biden's education plan focuses on connecting students to additional educational pathways that lead to a diversity of career paths. Because most jobs require education beyond a high school diploma, he wants to see more options for students to pursue certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor's degrees.


Vocational Programs and Community College

Biden shares former President Barack Obama's enthusiasm for community colleges and vocational training. His plan for postsecondary education aims to invest heavily in vocational education and provide extra support to low-income students at those schools.

Biden promises to make up to two years of community college free.

As president, Biden promises to make up to two years of community college free for anyone who wants to attend. This would include part-time students, Dreamers (young undocumented adults who came to the U.S. as children), and adults who never had the chance to go to college.

Biden also envisions "seamless pathways between high school, job training, community college, and four-year programs." An interconnected education system could forge partnerships among community colleges; businesses; unions; state, local, and tribal governments; universities; and high schools to identify the knowledge and skills in local demand and develop relevant workforce training programs.

According to Dr. Jill Biden, community colleges are "America's best kept secret." Joe Biden's plan to improve and expand community colleges' potential includes providing wraparound support services on campus, such as childcare, faculty mentoring, and financial aid for textbooks and transportation.


Four-Year Colleges

Biden's education policy has long included two years of tuition-free community college for "any hardworking individual." In March, Biden expanded his policy to back tuition-free four-year college for students from families with incomes up to $125,000.

He also promises to double the maximum value of the Pell Grant, which has failed to keep up with the rising cost of tuition and cannot be used for expenses beyond tuition. Biden would shift to a "first-dollar" approach to Pell Grants, allowing students to use them for books, transportation, and other expenses.

Biden wants to effectively "create a 'Title I for postsecondary education'" by providing extra funding to schools that serve a large population of Pell Grant students. This funding would aid many regional public schools as well as minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

In addition to wraparound services and emergency grant programs, the funding would help make MSIs and HBCUs more affordable for their students, update facilities, and create programs to increase retention and provide career support.


Student Debt

Biden's plan for student loans doesn't include the all-out debt forgiveness championed by Sanders and other Democratic candidates. Instead, Biden would relax repayment requirements for low-income individuals and improve existing loan forgiveness programs.

Biden aims to relax repayment requirements and improve existing loan forgiveness programs.

Individuals making $25,000 or less per year would not owe any payments on their undergraduate federal student loans and would not accrue any interest. Those making more than $25,000 would be automatically enrolled in the income-based repayment program, with the opportunity to opt out if they wish.

Those who make over $25,000 would pay 5% of their discretionary income (i.e., income minus the essentials, like taxes, housing, and food) toward their loans. After 20 years, the remaining debt of those who are up to date on their payments would be 100% forgiven.

The existing public service loan forgiveness program would also be simplified and amended so that graduates who go on to work at schools, for the government, and in nonprofit settings would receive $10,000 of undergraduate or graduate student debt relief for every year of national or community service, up to five years.

Where Joe Biden Stands on Education Issues

Biden's education policy paints a clear picture of how extra education funding should be used: to reward teachers with competitive wages, provide universal pre-K to 3- and 4-year-olds, and give all high schoolers access to practical and rigorous coursework, including both shop classes and Advanced Placement classes.

At the higher education level, Biden values practical education, but his previous focus on vocational career training has expanded. The presidential candidate promises free community college to all and free four-year college to many. At $125,000, the upper income limit to qualify for free college excludes only a small fraction of the U.S. population.

In addition to free higher education, Biden supports many issues that hit home with young voters, including a clean energy future, affordable college and career training, and an end to gun violence. He has also vowed a quick reversal of DeVos' updated Title IX sexual misconduct rules.