Incoming First Lady Jill Biden plans to use her decades of experience and expertise in education to push for debt-free community college as well as tuition-free college for students whose families earn less than $125,000 a year.
It’s typical for first ladies to have a cause they tackle while in the White House, but Biden’s is certainly more personal and urgent to her than say, cyberbullying was for Melania: Biden is currently an English professor at a community college in Virginia, a job she’ll continue to do as FLOTUS.
Biden has had both of these objectives in mind for a while. “If we get to the White House, I’m gonna continue to teach,” she told CBS This Morning in August. “It’s important, and I want people to value teachers and know their contributions, and lift up the profession.” She also advocated on behalf of community colleges as second lady, visiting campuses across the country on “Community College to Career” tour, meeting with other educators, and hosting White House events.
“She’s ... knowledgeable about the challenges,” Martha Kanter, the former under secretary of education in the Obama administration, told Yahoo News, the first outlet to report on Biden’s FLOTUS plans. “Why do students leave? Why do they drop out? What are the barriers that we better work much harder...to get out of the way?”
Biden’s emphasis on debt-free community college complements her husband’s recent discussion of student loan forgiveness. On the campaign trail, Joe Biden backed a policy that would cancel $10,000 per borrower, though in the wake of the election Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would like to get that number to $50,000. The fact that Chuck Schumer seemed to be trying to push Joe Biden on this issue gave me the fleeting hope that some amount of universal debt cancellation might happen.
But while FLOTUS’s reported proposals for debt-free community college (for all) and tuition-free college (for some) are important steps in the right direction, I also wonder if they will be used as a compromise, a way to skirt demands for a much bolder, wide-reaching policy to forgive student debt without any means testing.
Contrary to what certain lawmakers might have us think, it’s indeed possible to enact Biden’s debt-free community college plan and wipe out student debt across the board. It just takes the will to question the system as it is.