Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden reacts during a campaign Community Event at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire, U.S., August 24, 2019.
Elizabeth Frantz | REUTERS
After an event at Keene State College in New Hampshire over the weekend, a student walked up to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and asked him to promise her that he wouldn’t forget college students should he make it to the White House.
“No, I don’t forget college students,” Biden said. “I put three kids through college and graduate school.
“I ended up with a debt of over $280,000,” he added. “I get it; I’ve forgotten more about it than you’ll ever know.”
Biden went on to sketch out his higher education plan.
He stopped short of his previous position that all four years of public college should be free, saying instead that he supported two years of free community college, “cutting in half the cost of four years of college at a state university.”
“We’re going to cut back on what’s owed by people who go to private college,” Biden said, adding that he would reduce the monthly student loan payments for people enrolled in income-driven repayment plans, in which bills are capped at a percentage of a borrower’s income.
Currently, under those plans, people pay 10% to 20% of their discretionary income. Biden suggested he would require them to pay just 5%.
And if a student loan borrower earns less than $30,000, Biden said, they wouldn’t be required to pay anything and interest wouldn’t accumulate on their debt.
A campaign spokesperson said Biden will soon release a plan for “making higher education affordable and accessible to all Americans.”
Higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz said Biden’s plan doesn’t make any big waves.
“He does not propose to forgive student loans, even in a targeted manner,” Kantrowitz said. “They won’t attract much attention from millennials.”
Many of the major contenders for the Democratic nomination, including Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, have released bold plans to address concerns about escalating student debt and college tuition.
Sanders’ plan would erase all $1.6 trillion of outstanding student debt and make two- and four-year public colleges tuition- and debt-free. Warren has proposed eliminating the cost of tuition and fees at every public two-year and four-year college, and canceling $640 billion of student debt. Harris has said she would make community college free and four-year public college debt-free.
In New Hampshire, Biden said there should be “college forgiveness for public service, if you’re engaged,” an apparent reference to the already existing public service loan forgiveness program.
Signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007, the public service program allows not-for-profit and government employees to have their federal student loans canceled after 10 years of payments. However, the program has been plagued by problems, and more than 99% of applicants are rejected.
“You’re going to do fine,” Biden told the student at the New Hampshire rally. “Your parents are making a great sacrifice having you here at a private university.”
“This is public,” the woman corrected him. “It’s Keene State College.”