By Amanda Menas
With his wife Jill Biden, a long-time community college professor and NEA member, by his side, Joe Biden can’t help but be a leader on higher education issues. As president, he would make sure that colleges are more affordable, more accessible, and safer for students, staff and faculty alike.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend colleges and universities, the Bidens recognize that many higher-ed faculty and staff work not just in classrooms and research labs, but also among dorms and other campus residences. And their campuses have multiple, unsecured entries, open to community residents. These factors make it more difficult to stop the spread of COVID-19 on campuses. While many institutions have moved to virtual learning for safety reasons, in other places, NEA-affiliated faculty, graduate assistants, and staff have had to advocate for measures to protect their colleagues and students, especially for their Black and Hispanic community members, who are dying in disproportionate numbers.
As president, Joe Biden has a plan and would put in place the testing and contact tracing programs that could stop the spread of COVID-19 and help campuses reopen faster; he also would help faculty and students get the technology they need, if remote learning remains necessary.
Here is Biden’s plan to make sure higher education is safe, accessible, and affordable for all:
Biden will invest in community colleges
Jill Biden, who plans to continue teaching at a community college if Joe is elected, refers to community colleges as “America’s best kept secret.” With the leadership and advice of higher educators, the Biden administration will build on community colleges’ success and unleash their full potential to grow a stronger, more inclusive middle class. His plan ensures students can earn debt-free job certificates or two-year associate’s degrees, and also provides a new grant program to assist community colleges; wrap-around services for students who also work and have families; and investments in college facilities and technology.
Biden will strengthen access and affordability to college
The cost of higher education has skyrocketed, roughly doubling since the mid-1990s. Biden wants to make sure all students who are interested in a post-secondary education can afford it, and that public higher education is seen as a public good. As president, he will make public colleges and universities tuition-free for all families with incomes below $125,000. Additionally, Biden will double the maximum value of Pell grants and increase access to the program for all including DREAMers and returning citizens; simplify income-based repayment plans; and ensure educators and other public-service workers have access to the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Is there anything else about how Biden plans to fund this for 4-yr colleges and universities? He’s more explicit about 2-yr and MSI institutions but not the rest of higher ed where many of our members work.
Biden will lift up students of color
Biden sees how the student debt crisis in this country is deepening the racial wealth gap. The Biden administration will establish a new grant program to support under-resourced four-year schools that serve large numbers of Pell-eligible students — a “Title I for postsecondary education.” He also will stop predatory for-profit colleges from profiteering off of students and hold private lenders accountable. Biden understands how these efforts will help students by creating seamless pathways between high school, job training, community college, and four-year programs.
Biden will support HBCUs and MSIs
Biden sees the vital role played by historically Black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions. In his home state, Delaware State University, an HBCU, graduates nearly half of the state’s black undergraduate students. As president, Biden will take steps to rectify the funding disparities faced by MSIs, including HBCUs and tribal colleges and universities, so that the U.S. can benefit from their unique strengths. His plan invests $18 billion to make those institutions more affordable to students; $20 billion for much-needed infrastructure and facilities improvements; and $10 billion to create at least 200 new “centers of excellence” that will serve as research incubators. The goal is to increase student enrollment, retention, completion, and post-graduation employment rates. Biden also will make permanent $750 million per year in Title III and Title V funding, providing a dedicated revenue stream of $7.5 billion over the first 10 years. To advance racial equity throughout our economy, Biden would forgive all undergraduate tuition-related federal student debt from public two- and four-year colleges and universities, as well as private HBCUs and MSIs, for debt holders earning less than $125,000.