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By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 15, 2024

What a Biden presidency could and should do for students, higher education

Now that former Vice President Joe Biden is our projected president-elect, we can finally say goodbye to President Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos-era higher education policies.

Trump, his administration and a majority Republican Senate have already been highly criticized by many Americans this year for their handling of the coronavirus and the funds distributed to higher education institutions. Not only did they not provide enough funding for universities that needed to go remote like GW, but they failed on a larger level to address the escalation of the pandemic. 

Hannah Thacker | Opinions Editor

In addition to the failures of our leadership, student loan debt reached a new high of $1.5 trillion, the second-largest amount of debt next to mortgages. The cost of education keeps going up, and students like us keep taking out more and more money to get our shot at a successful life. 

Let’s not forget about the slew of slaps to the face in academia. The Trump administration imposed a travel ban that negatively impacted our international students, changed Title IX policies to hurt survivors of sexual assault and removed protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients. Higher education institutions now need to repair Trump’s blunders, and Biden can help lead the process to heal. 

“Trump’s normalization of bigotry has even extended to college campuses, with bigoted screeds hiding themselves under ‘free speech.'”

Entering the presidential election and the Democratic primary, a lot of ideas were thrown around about how the candidates would help students if they were to be elected. Former presidential hopefuls like Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., proposed plans to eliminate student loan debt and make higher education free, and several other candidates addressed those issues with varying proposals. The bottom line is that students and higher education need help, so what is a Biden-Harris White House going to do for us? More importantly, what should they do?

Biden entered this race with plans to make public education free for anyone who makes under $125,000 a year – double the amount of money offered by the Pell Grant – improve loan forgiveness for public servants, work to make private loans disappear if someone files for bankruptcy and increase funding and resources for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is pushing Biden to wipe out up to $50,000 in student debt for some people by executive order. If enacted, that order would legitimately be a life-saver for millions of people. Biden could even go beyond that: some have suggested he has the power to wipe out all federal student loan debt with the stroke of a pen. While the details of student-centered policies may vary, the point is that Biden and Harris will have the power to help young people, and they should use that power. 

College students are also dealing with another crisis right now: the pandemic. If the pandemic gets under control and campuses reopen, we just might be able to claw back some semblance of a college experience for ourselves. And if the pandemic’s devastating effect on the economy is rolled back, we have a chance of not graduating into a recession. A Biden administration would actually listen to scientists and take steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19 through executive orders around sick leave and economic relief. This would be in direct contrast to the Trump administration’s incompetent management of, followed by abject concession of defeat to, the virus. The last few relief packages were helpful but did not go far enough – the new administration will have the chance to rectify that.

A Biden-Harris administration would also tamp down the vicious tone of politics on campuses and nationwide. Trump’s shameless and cruel discourse toward women, immigrants, people of color and other marginalized groups has percolated down to many of his supporters: it has been demonstrated that many people who had quietly harbored racist and misogynistic opinions have been emboldened to lend voice to them because of Trump. This normalization of bigotry has even extended to college campuses, with bigoted screeds hiding themselves under “free speech.” Unlike Trump, Biden and Harris do not legitimize hate speech or tacitly lend credence to hate groups. Any president will be divisive at times – it’s the nature of party politics – but Biden and Harris will not spur their supporters to chant “Jews will not replace us.”

That same empowerment of racism and bigotry under Trump has also been associated with a broad denigration of education, facts and science. Scientists who plead for mask mandates are dismissed, uninformed hot takes about climate change are considered equally legitimate as ironclad scientific consensus and college education is brushed aside as political “brainwashing.” Biden and Harris have pledged to listen to experts and respect the importance of higher education. As first lady, Jill Biden will bring a background in education to the East Wing, and Howard University graduate Harris will be the first national officeholder to hail from one of the country’s HBCUs. And the new administration has pledged to choose a secretary of education who has experience in education, ending DeVos’ disastrous tenure. 

Between relieving student debt, combatting COVID-19, restoring the economy and fighting climate change, the upcoming Biden presidency has the potential to make life meaningfully better for college students across the country. Young people helped Biden and Harris win this election. Now it is their turn to implement policies that will help us. 

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Hannah Thacker and contributing opinions editor Andrew Sugrue, based on discussions with managing director Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, managing editor Parth Kotak, sports editor Emily Maise, culture editor Anna Boone and design editor Olivia Columbus. 

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