Fact Check: Has Joe Biden Said He Would Forgive Your Student Loans?

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Getty Former vice president (2008-2016) and 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden.

2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden has struggled to raise the same type of enthusiasm among young voters that previous candidates, such as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, did, leading many to speculate about Biden’s “enthusiasm gap.”

According to research from a Politico/Morning Consult poll of Gen Zers (between the ages of 18 and 23) who said they were voting for Joe Biden, only seven percentage points separated those who said that they thought of their vote as one that was a vote against Trump (45%) than one for Biden (52%).

To court young voters, Biden has advertised offer education-focused programs around student debt relief and easier access to public colleges and universities.

Here is what he has actually offered.

Biden Has Promised Partial Student Debt Relief Under a Coronavirus Stimulus Package

According to Forbes, the cumulative total of federal student loan debt is more than $1.5 trillion in debt, which represents a 72% increase from 2010, even after adjusting for inflation.

During a town hall in Miami, Biden said talked about his plan to address that tsunami of debt. “You get all these degrees and you get all this debt, and you get in a position where you can’t get a job because no one is hiring, or they’re hiring at very low wages,” Biden said, according to Forbes. “I’m going to eliminate your student debt if you come from a family (making less) than $125,000 and went to a public university.”

This statement was somewhat misleading because Biden was talking about preemptively eliminating debt, according to his website and other statements.

Here is what Biden has said about federal student loans on his website:

  • Those making $25,000 or less per year would not owe on federal student loans and those loans wouldn’t accrue any interest
  • Those making above $25,000 or more would pay “5% of their discretionary income (income minus taxes and essential spending like housing and food)” toward the loan. After 20 years, the remainder of the debt would be 100% forgiven
  • Public servants would have $10,000 in undergraduate or graduate student debt forgiven for every year they spend in public service (for up to five years, or a total of $50,000)

Biden has also said that he would offer debt relief as part of any coronavirus relief stimulus package. “I’m going to make sure everyone gets $10,000 knocked off of their student debt,” Biden said, according to Forbes.

Biden Has Proposed Tuition-Free Public College for Some Families

Here is what Biden has proposed on his website:

Biden has added to his education beyond high school agenda by adopting Senator Sanders’ proposal to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for all students whose family incomes are below $125,000.

Some people support the program and like the income limits, but do not like that the cost-reduction is limited to tuition since room-and-board costs are a significant contributor to college debt.

The plan has also encountered some skepticism for its costs and criticism from members of the Trump campaign. Courtney Parella, a Trump campaign spokeswoman, told Inside Higher Ed, “The reality of Biden’s ‘free college’ plan is that it’s anything but free, and he and his campaign should explain to the American people what the total cost of their socialist plan is and how they expect to pay for it.”

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that Biden’s plan would cost $49.6 billion in its first year, “But the plan would pay for itself, the report finds, because yearly tax revenue generated as a result of the free college program would outweigh the annual cost within the first 10 years,” Marketwatch reported.

A Pew research poll found that the majority of women, young people (ages 18-29), Black and Hispanic adults and people with a high school education (or less) all expressed somewhat or strong approval for making public colleges and universities tuition-free for all American students.

Biden’s website also says that he would double the maximum amount of Pell grants to match inflation and that he would “restore formerly incarcerated individuals’ eligibility for Pell.”

Finally, Biden has expressed support for a “Title I for Postsecondary Education,” a grant similar to the Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act, according to the recommendation of a teachers’ union called the American Federation of Teachers. The Act would provide resources to public secondary education institutions that serve primarily low-income and traditionally disadvantaged students.

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