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US presidential elections: the candidates’ take on education

One may wonder what’s in store for higher education, in the upcoming US presidential elections of 3 November 2020, which opposes Democratic party candidate Joe Bidden and his running mate Kamala Harris to Republican party candidate President Donald J. Trump with VP Mike Pence.

Several topics are on the table on education policy, including questions related to remote learning in the COVID-19 times, but also college affordability, sexual assault policies, etc. though candidates’ take on these issues is not always apparent, while the matters are likely to be treated very differently.

Joe Biden is very focused on college affordability as well as the student debt crisis. On his campaign website he proposes several objective:

  • Making public colleges and universities tuition-free for all families with incomes below USD125 000.
  • Doubling the maximum value of Pell grants, which have helped 7 million students a year to afford college, but haven’t kept up with rising prices of college tuition. The grants used to cover 70-80% of the cost of a four-year degree at a public institutions, but today they only cover roughly 30% of affiliated cost, on average
  • Making loan forgiveness work for public servants.
  • Simplifying and increasing the generosity of the income-based repayment program.
  • Helping students at under-resources four-year schools to complete their degree through a Title for postsecondary education

Other measures include supporting colleges and universities such as historically black colleges, Hispanic-serving institutions, Asian American and native American service institutions, etc. A big part of the Biden program is thus meant to ease student loan debt, which is severely impacting on many Americans.

On the other hand, Donald Trump and current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have been working during the President’s first term on reducing the role of federal government in education, and introducing budget cuts for the Education Department. Nevertheless. during the COVID-19 pandemic, Donald Trump has tried to reverse the decentralisation trend, pushing from the federal level for the reopening of universities and rejecting online learning as a valuable alternative, leading to sector-wide reactions and severe opposition that ultimately led to the reversal of the measures.

Overall, Trump’s programme or take on higher education is not so easy to grasp, as the campaign website does not present related plans on education. It features though a “promises kept” section, which mentions that the student loan servicing process has had its customer experience improved, that the free application for federal student aid was made to be more accessible and that the services student loans was modernised.

In the long run, Trump has not given any indication that he would support student loan forgivenessbut he has paused payments on student loans and set interest rates at 0% until end of the year, though it hasn’t been fully clear if the extension would be automatic for everyone or if they would need to prove “economic hardship”. The memorandum is available on the White House official website and the US Education Department confirmed that the extension would count towards federal student loan forgiveness and rehabilitation programmes.

It is however not uncommon for higher education to not to feature too prominently and be a main topic of discussion in US presidential elections, even more so in circumstances such as the present one.