Biden v. Sanders: Which Democratic Candidate Is Best for US Higher Education? |

Biden v. Sanders: Which Democratic Candidate Is Best for US Higher Education?

By Linda M

Updated March 18, 2020 Updated March 18, 2020

After almost a year of campaigning, the Democratic race has finally narrowed down to two candidates: moderate Joe Biden, Vice President under the Obama Administration, and progressive Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont since 2007.

While the two belong to the same party, their stances on popular American issues – such as international intervention, healthcare, climate change, gun control and immigration – have led to key differences in their approach to resolve them.

The same divide applies to another pressing matter: college affordability and higher education policy.

As of today, some 45m Americans owe about US$1.6tn (£1.32tn) in student debt to schools and private loaning companies. This is a staggering figure, but not so surprising considering that the price of a four-year university degree has more than tripled since the 1990s.

The average college student in the US graduates with around US$30,000 (£24,800) in student debt, while one in six college students will have accumulated over US$50,000 (£41,350) at the end of the four years of college.

These include older Americans: one in 10 in their 40s and 50s still owe money to debt collectors.

The financial burden of attending college also affects students’ personal resources. Research found that 45 percent of college students struggled with hunger; 56 percent struggled with the cost of housing; and 17 percent have experienced homelessness. This has led to equity gaps in the current student population.

According to recent reports, only 14.3 percent of people aged 25-34 with disabilities have attended university compared to 37.2 percent of their peers without disabilities.

Moreover, people whose families make less than US$35,000 (£29,084) a year are 15 times less likely to earn an undergraduate degree.

It’s obvious why higher education is a make-or-break deal for many voters, especially young ones under 35, but how are Biden and Sanders planning to tackle these issues?

Scrapping v. managing costs

The most radical differences between the two candidates lie in debt forgiveness and college tuition fees.

Sanders’ plan proposes scrapping the entire balance of US$1.6tn in outstanding student debt.

Biden, on the other hand, wants to tailor his approach to different income brackets: graduates who make US$25,000 (£20,728) or less per year would see their undergraduate debt scrapped, while everyone else would pay 5 percent of their yearly income towards loans. After 20 years, all remaining debt would be canceled.

In terms of tuition fees, Sanders wants to pass the College for All Act to make public colleges and universities, tribal colleges, community colleges, trade schools and apprenticeship programs free for all. This would require a state-federal spending of US$48bn (£39.7bn) per year where the government would pay two-thirds of the cost and the state would pay the rest.

Biden, on the other hand, would scrap tuition fees only for community college students attending school for two years as opposed to regular college students who go for four. To help the latter, he plans to create a new grand program to provide financial and practical support – such as books, mental health services and transportation – with a focus on veterans, single parents, low-income students, students of color and students with disabilities.

Funding education

Another pressing issue the candidates have addressed is the underfunding of Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Minority-Serving Institutions (MISs).

Under a Sanders Administration, the state-federal partnership would invest US$1.3bn (£1,08bn) to eliminate or reduce fees for low-income students at the 200 HBCUs and MISs with a low-income student population of 35 percent or above.

Under a Biden Administration, low-income and middle-class HBCU and MIS students would receive two years of free tuition. Moreover, colleges and the government would spend US$10bn (£8.3bn) to create “centers of excellence” for minority students and boost research in fields such as climate change, globalization and health disparities.

Other policies for student aid proposed by Sanders include tripling the spending on Work-Study programs for colleges with a high low-income student population and reinvesting tuition grants into funds for books, transportation, housing and other necessities.

Biden has proposed a similar plan, with a particular focus on creating emergency grants for students who experience unexpected personal and financial challenges during their college career.

To pay for his higher education plan, Sanders wants to implement new taxes on Wall Street, proven to raise US$2.4tn (£1.99tn) over the course of 10 years. These would include a 0.5 percent tax on stock trades, a 0.1 percent fees on bonds and 0.005 percent fee on derivatives.

Biden, on the other hand, would finance his plan by lowering the capital gains tax liability for property passed on to an heir and capping itemized deductions for high-income taxpayers at 28 percent.

These two approaches to the higher education crisis show the key differences between the candidates.

While Biden is trying to consolidate support from various branches of the Democratic voter population, including those from higher economic classes, Sanders is unwilling to compromise on what he has defined a “revolution” of the educational system for the working class and minorities.

As the candidates battle to gain support in the next round of primaries, these policies will soon be crucial to determine who will face Trump at the polls in November.


This article was originally published in March 2020 .

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Written by

Linda is Content Writer at TopMBA, creating content about students, courses, universities and businesses. She recently graduated in Journalism & Creative Writing with Politics and International Relations, and now enjoys writing for a student audience.