By Melissa Schill

Understanding front-running candidates’ education policies for students and parents of students is crucial with the 2020 elections coming up. Stances on student debt and education opportunity is a key feature of the presidential race. Here are the education stances the front-running candidates take as of December 2019.

President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump was elected into office in 2016 and is part of the Republican party. He is currently running for his second term in office but is facing impeachment.

President Trump allotted $59.9 billion to the Department of Education for 2019. The budget emphasized six priorities: “(1) providing better choices to attend a high-quality school for more families. (2) Supporting high-quality special education services to children with disabilities. (3) Expanding access to additional pathways to successful careers for our students. (4) Promoting innovation and reform around science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and computer science education. (5) Implementing school-based opioid abuse prevention strategies. (6) Making the Department more efficient while limiting the Federal role in education.” 

Along the lines of the sixth priority, Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, recently proposed that Federal Student Aid (FSA) be separated from the Education Department. In her proposal, she noted that “FSA’s mission is to serve students and their families, but its structure is set up to serve politicians and their families.” The separation, according to DeVos, would allow FSA to better administer and manage loans and simplify the loan repayment process. 

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders describes himself as a “democratic socialist.” He began his career in government as the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, then served as Vermont’s congressman in the House of Representatives for 16 years, and is now on his third term as a U.S. Senator. Sanders ran for Democratic nomination for president in the 2016 election. 

A large part of Sanders’ campaign revolves around his stance on college education. On his campaign website, he states his intent to “guarantee tuition and debt-free” college to all and to “cancel all student loan debt.” He promises to place a cap on student loan interest rates. He also promises to invest in higher education institutions that serve primarily minority students and historically black colleges. Additionally, he aims to work toward ending equity gaps in higher education attainment. Heplans to expand Pell Grants and increase funding for the Work-Study Program. Sanders has garnered a large following from the younger generations because of his ideas for radical reformation in the higher education system.

Joe Biden

Joe Biden is a life-long Democrat. Biden has served as a lawyer, councilman, U.S. Senator, then vice president during the presidency of Barack Obama.

Biden’s plan for education “provides educators the support and respect they need and deserve” and “invests in all children from birth, so that regardless of their zip code, parents’ income, race, or disability, they are prepared to succeed in tomorrow’s economy,” as laid out in his campaign website. Biden intends to triple funding for Title I. This is a federal program that funds schools with a high percentage of low-income families, for the sake of increasing teachers’ salaries. He also plans to help teachers pay off their student loans. The current Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, a program that offers loan forgiveness to government and not-for-profit organization employees will be reformed.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren is from the progressive wing of the Democratic party. She was a teacher, lawyer, and professor, but is currently a US Senator from Massachusetts. Warren’s first bill introduced as a senator was one that provided relief to students with burdensome loans; higher education reform has been a primary concern of hers’ from the beginning of her time in federal government. 

Warren plans to cancel up to $50,000 for those with remaining student loan debt. She also intends to eliminate college tuition, making higher education accessible and universal. According to her campaign website, she plans to make this happen with a new 2 percent annual tax on families with $50 million or more in wealth. Warren is dedicated to confronting the inequities prevalent in higher education. She will address this by creating a fund for institutions that primarily serve minority students and historically black colleges. She also intends to offer offering additional funding to states that demonstrate “substantial improvement in enrollment and graduation rates for lower-income students and students of color.”

Experts have estimated that Warren’s plans will cost $1.25 trillion. However, Warren argues that the long term benefits of promoting and investing in accessible higher education will “create an economic stimulus.” Students benefiting from her plan will bring around return on the sum.

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg is part of the Democratic party. He is mayor of South Bend, Indiana, (elected in 2012), and he served as a lieutenant in the US Navy Reserve.  

Buttigieg intends to offer a debt-free college education to students. According to his campaign website, he plans to do this by making tuition free for low-income families, and free for middle-income families at public institutions. He also hopes to increase Pell Grants to keep up with inflation. Additionally, graduates who are in “low-quality, overwhelmingly for-profit programs” will have their student loans cancelled. $50 billion will be invested in institutions that serve primarily minority students and historically black colleges.