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Credit: Mia Kim

As Democratic presidential primaries begin to ramp up across the nation, many Penn students will be faced with choosing a candidate they feel will best represent their needs — especially when it comes to higher education. Below are the platforms of the five leading Democratic hopefuls to make college more affordable and to decrease student debt. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Some of Sanders’ most popular proposals among his supporters are his sweeping higher education initiatives. Sanders' “College for All Act” would eliminate all undergraduate tuition at public universities. Sanders is also in favor of canceling all student debt, regardless of household income. He plans to fund these initiatives through a tax on Wall Street speculators.

College of Arts and Sciences sophomore and member of Penn for Bernie Brandon Davies addressed the criticism that Sanders’ plans are too unrealistic to consider implementing.

“I know part of Bernie’s plan is taxing Wall Street, and some aren’t in favor,” Davies said. “Although a lot of people deem it as unrealistic, it isn’t so crazy when you actually consider just how much this top 1% of Americans have, and how much they can spare to help out literally millions of struggling students in this country.” 

Former Vice President Joe Biden

Biden plans to provide free community college for up to two years for all students, including part-time and undocumented students. 

Biden also hopes to double the current maximum Pell Grant financial award, as well as revamp the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program by expanding eligibility for public servants. Biden also plans to invest $70 billion in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority-serving institutions. 

Wharton School senior and co-founder of Penn for Biden Dylan Milligan said although he thinks all of the Democratic candidates agree on basic issues, Biden's outlook and plans for higher education are the most realistic. 

"Student debt is one of the largest problems that faces our generation. If it was feasible for anyone to go to any college for free, I think that would be incredibly beneficial to society,” Milligan said. "But the fact of the matter is, this is the system that we’re in. If any of these candidates get elected, they are going to do similar things [to Biden]. But Biden’s platform is being upfront about it.”  

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg

If elected, Bloomberg plans to make community college tuition free for all students. 

He also supports the implementation of “debt-free” plans for low-income students at public institutions. Though Bloomberg does not plan to completely eliminate tuition for low-income students, he will double Pell Grant funding and expand its eligibility. In this way, he claims students whose annual household income is less than $30,000 will not need to take out loans.

Unlike the other top Democratic candidates, there is currently no formal student group at Penn supporting the Bloomberg presidential campaign.

Former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg 

Buttigieg aims to eliminate tuition at public universities for students with household incomes under $100,000. He will also invest $50 billion in HBCUs.

Buttigieg plans to raise taxes on wealthier Americans to fund his initiatives.  

First-year Engineering master’s student and co-coordinator of Penn for Pete David Yastremsky praised the more pragmatic nature of Buttigieg's higher education plan compared to his peers, and said the money saved can be used in other areas.

"[More money] can fuel the global economy by further investing or providing resources to entrepreneurs in marginalized communities,” he said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) 

Warren bases her higher education platform off of two major concepts – providing the option of free public college tuition for all Americans and canceling student debt. 

To eliminate the cost of tuition at in-state universities, Warren plans to increase funding and eligibility for the Pell Grant program. She aims to forgive student debt based on household income. 

Under Warren's plan, up to $50,000 in debt would be forgiven for students with a household income under $100,000 per year. Other students with family incomes less than $250,000 per year would also be eligible for partial debt forgiveness.

The cost of the plan is estimated to be around $640 million, which Warren says she will pay for with her proposed "Ultra-Millionaire Tax," which will place a small tax on households with a net worth of more than $50 million.

College sophomore and Penn for Warren President Abigail Clyde spoke of how Warren’s education initiatives will specifically affect lower class families and families of color. Warren plans to invest $50 billion in HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions.

“If we want to close the gap between income and education level, Warren is the way to go,” Clyde said.

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