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Biden’s campaign touts $750 billion plan aimed at boosting community colleges

Joe Biden says his plan would cut the cost of a four-year college degree in half. He would also invest $70 billion in historically black colleges and universities and tribal colleges and universities. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Joe Biden’s presidential campaign Tuesday released a $750 billion higher education plan aimed at investing resources in community colleges and making them more affordable and accessible to more Americans.

The nine-page plan outlines several proposals — some of which Biden has talked about for months or helped push during his eight years in the Obama administration — that would try to bolster a portion of the education system that his campaign says is often overlooked.

The plan included input from Biden’s wife, Jill, who has spent her career as an educator and who still teaches at Northern Virginia Community College, where she also worked when Biden served as vice president.

“I’ve seen so many lives changed by community colleges and technical training, especially in underserved places,” Jill Biden told reporters on a conference call to preview the plan.

“It goes beyond tuition and supports a holistic approach to retention and completion,” she said. “That’s what really makes a difference in my students’ lives. The ability to get child care, so that they can come to class; affordable housing options; and the transportation they need to get to school.”

Biden’s plan would make two years of community college tuition-free. He argues that doing so would cut in half the tuition costs for a four-year degree, since students could attend the first two years at a community college free and transfer the credits to a four-year college or university.

The plan also includes $50 billion for work-training programs and $8 billion for facility and technology upgrades at community colleges. Biden would also invest $70 billion in schools aimed at educating minorities, including historically black colleges and universities and tribal colleges and universities.

He would also double the maximum value of a Pell grant and would allow students to use those grants to pay for things beyond tuition and fees, such as room and board or books.

Biden would pay for the $750 billion plan by eliminating a complex tax provision called “stepped-up basis,” which adjusts the value of inherited assets in a way that allows heirs to avoid paying taxes on any appreciation in value the asset accrued during the decedent’s lifetime. Biden would also cap at 28 percent the itemized deductions the wealthiest Americans can take.

The plan comes at a tenuous moment for Biden, as his campaign teeters in its response to President Trump — who has ridiculed Biden and his son Hunter for the son’s pursuit of overseas business while his father was vice president — and in trying to keep up with the far-reaching plans that his Democratic primary rivals have been releasing.

Biden over the past two weeks has attempted to promote his ideas on health care and gun control, even as Trump has released TV ads attacking him as corrupt and has aired unfounded accusations that have become a centerpiece of the impeachment inquiry launched by House Democrats.

Many of Biden’s education proposals put him in line with his Democratic primary rivals — although in some cases their plans have gone further. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), for example, would eliminate tuition and fees at all public colleges and universities, not just community colleges. He also has promoted a plan to cancel all student loan debt.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has her own free-college plan and also would cancel large portions of existing student loan debt.

Biden takes aim at the same problem, with a proposal to help low-income Americans pay off their education loans. Individuals making $25,000 or less per year would not owe any payments on undergraduate federal student loans and wouldn’t accrue interest. Everyone else would pay 5 percent of their discretionary income over $25,000 toward their loans. Any remaining balance on the loan would be forgiven after 20 years, if payments have been consistently made.

Biden would also create a program to provide $10,000 in undergraduate or graduate student debt relief for every year of national or community service, up to five years. Those funds would benefit people working in schools, government or other nonprofit settings; prior service would also qualify.