(CN) – Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden unveiled a $750 billion education package that focuses on cost-free community college.
Biden’s plan also calls for the government to distribute more Pell grants, increase the amount given to grantees and make qualifying for the grants easier for a broader swath of the American middle class.
Also, the plan seeks to address what Biden characterizes as a student debt crisis, noting that more than 44 million Americans are carrying a total of $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, 20% of which is in arrears.
The campaign distinguished itself from the plans touted by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who have called for free four-year college tuition for all students while erasing all college debt.
Jill Biden, the former vice president’s wife, provided input on the plan and said her experience as a professor at Northern Virginia Community College gave her first-hand knowledge of how community colleges can provide upward mobility.
I’ve seen so many lives changed by community colleges and technical training, especially in underserved places,” Jill Biden said in a statement on Tuesday. “These programs are flexible. They meet students where they are. And they not only help them develop skills, they help them develop confidence and a sense of purpose.”
Many of the initiatives cited in the plan Tuesday were originally unveiled during the final days of the Obama administration, which was unable to implement them due to other priorities and intractable congressional opposition.
When Biden announced he would not run in 2016, he still voiced support for four years of cost-free college, saying American students were entitled to 16 years of quality education. He also supported the eradication of college debt.
But Tuesday’s plan is more muted, once again displaying Biden’s penchant to adopt a more centrist position and setting himself off from the progressive wing embodied by Sanders and Warren.
Biden does call for the incremental eradication of student debt by $10,000 per year for public employees, particularly those who become teachers or serve in the military.
He would also cut the current cap on loan payments, which is currently 10% of discretionary income above $25,000. Biden’s plan calls for a 5% cap, saying such a measure could assist the overall economy by giving young people more cash in hand to invest in housing and their own retirement.
But the plan will continue to focus on making community college and trade schools widely available to low-income individuals and people from historically underrepresented populations.
“My students inspire me,” Jill Biden said. “They’re single parents and veterans; they juggle multiple jobs and care for their families. Many of them are first generation college students. They work so hard and ask for only one thing in return: opportunity. And every American deserves that.”