Democratic Debate: What Will Biden, Warren, Sanders Do for Student Debt, Free College?

Education has long been a go-to campaign issue, and with college costs rising, Democrat presidential candidates have put a national spotlight on the issue.

On Thursday, the 10 Americans vying for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States will take to the debate stage to defend their stances and critique their opponents'. Held at Texas Southern University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Houston, the debate will likely include discussion of higher education costs.

The issue came up at the two previous debates and every candidate has either spoken on the subject or outlined their plan for it on their campaign website. Proposals have differed by candidate but most included some sort of student debt reform or forgiveness and measures to make college more affordable to all or some people.

Former Vice President Joe Biden

Student Debt:

  • Lower the monthly payment amount for those with income-driven repayment plans

College Affordability:

  • Two years of free community college
  • Invest in vocational training and partnerships between high schools, community colleges and employers.
  • Allow students to earn an industry credential upon high school graduation
  • Allow Pell Grants to be used for dual enrollment programs, allowing students to earn college credits or a credential before graduating high school

Learn more here.

Senator Bernie Sanders

Student Debt:

  • Cancel current student loan debt
  • Heavily reduce future student loan interest rates

College Affordability:

  • Tuition-free public colleges, universities and trade schools
  • Fully fund HBCUs

Learn more here.

Senator Elizabeth Warren

Student Debt:

  • Cancel $50,000 in student loan debt for those with household incomes under $100,000
  • Cancel student loan debt on a sliding scale for those with income between $100,000 and $250,000

College Affordability:

  • Tuition and fee-free two-year and four-year public college
  • Invest $100 billion over 10 years for Pell Grants
  • Expand Pell Grant eligibility

Learn more here.

democratic debate student debt college free
Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks as Senator Cory Booker and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke look on during the first night of the Democratic presidential debate on June 26 in Miami. All three candidate will once again share a debate stage on Thursday. Joe Raedle/Getty

Senator Kamala Harris

Student Debt:

  • Allow current debt holders to refinance high-interest loans to lower rates
  • Expand Income-Based Repayment

College Affordability:

  • Make community college free
  • Make four-year public college debt-free

Learn more here.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Student Debt:

  • Cancel student debt for borrowers in low-quality, for-profit programs

College Affordability:

  • Make public college tuition affordable for all
  • Make public college debt-free for lower-income families
  • Increase Pell Grants
  • Invest $25 billion in HBCUs and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI)

Learn more here.

Senator Cory Booker

Student Debt:

  • Reform and simplify how students apply for federal financial aid

College Affordability:

  • Make community college and vocational training tuition-free
  • Establish path to debt-free college
  • Invest in HBCUs

Learn more here.

Former Representative Beto O'Rourke

Student Debt:

  • Allow borrowers with high-interest rates to refinance at lower federal interest rates
  • Accelerate student loan forgiveness for educators
  • Forgive student loans for educators who have spent five years in a public school
  • Allow public service workers to have 10 percent of their debt forgiven for each year served

College Affordability:

  • Make community college free
  • Make first two years of tuition at state institution or technical college free
  • Support making attendance debt-free for low-income and middle-income students
  • Increase support for HBCUs and MSIs

Learn more here.

houston debate student debt free college
Democratic presidential hopefuls former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, Senator Cory Booker, former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Kamala Harris and entrepreneur Andrew Yang speak during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate on July 31. On Thursday, all four presidential candidates will return to the debate stage for the third debate. JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang

Student Debt:

  • Explore blanket partial reduction for school loan principal
  • Propose plan for federal government to buy student loan debt allowing, students to opt-in to repayment plan by pledging 10 percent of salary for 10-year period
  • Initiate an income-based payment program instead of fixed amount
  • Allow student loan debt to be discharged through bankruptcy

College Affordability:

  • Stipulate that universities receiving public funding cannot increase costs by more than the rate of annual median wage growth the year before
  • Work to fund community colleges to a point where they can provide free or drastically reduced tuition

Learn more here and here.

Senator Amy Klobuchar

Student Debt:

  • Allow borrowers to refinance student loans at lower interest rates
  • Forgive student loans for in-demand occupations

College Affordability:

  • Tuition-free one and two-year community college degrees and technical certifications
  • Expand Pell Grants

Learn more here.

Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro

Student Debt:

  • For graduates earning less than 250 percent of the federal poverty line: Cap loan payments at $0 with no interest accrual on unpaid interest for three years
  • For graduates earning at least 250 percent of the federal poverty line: Cap payments at 10 percent of qualified income
  • Non-taxable forgiveness for the remaining amount after 240 monthly payments
  • Cap interest accumulation at 50 percent of the lifetime increase of the loan
  • Allow borrowers to discharge or structure payment plans through bankruptcy
  • Reform the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program

College Affordability:

  • Make public colleges, universities, community colleges and technical and vocational schools tuition-free
  • Expand Pell Grant maximum to $10,000
  • Invest $3 billion per year in HBCUs and MSIs

Learn more here.

Democratic Debate: What Will Biden, Warren, Sanders Do for Student Debt, Free College? | U.S.