Biden seeks to make higher education more accessible for low-income students
By Vivian Xu
Nov. 19, 2020 6:28 p.m.
President-elect Joe Biden’s plans for higher education could make the University of California system more accessible for low-income students, students and faculty said.
Biden campaigned on eliminating tuition for households with an annual income of less than $125,000. He also campaigned on doubling the maximum value of Pell Grants. The Pell Grant is a federal subsidy given to low-income undergraduate students, according to the Federal Student Aid office of the United States Department of Education.
Bernie Sanders, a 2020 presidential candidate and Vermont senator originally proposed the plan to eliminate public university tuition for students from households that make less than $125,000.
Patricia Gándara, a research professor of education and co-director of The Civil Rights Project, said Biden’s plans for higher education could give low-income students greater access to higher education. His plans to improve the Pell Grant program could have the largest effect on California students, she added.
About 35% of UCLA undergraduates receive Pell Grants, according to the UCLA website.
However, the value of a Pell Grant has depreciated over time, said UC Office of the President spokesperson Karen Altridge in an emailed statement. Students have to instead rely on money from the Cal Grant and UC’s institutional aid to make up for the difference, Altridge said.
She added the Pell Grant program should be modernized and the UC looks forward to Biden’s plans to expand the Pell Grant program.
Biden also campaigned on a plan to eliminate tuition at community college for up to two years of attendance.
Sophie Zarkesh, a fourth-year transfer philosophy student from Santa Monica College, said Biden’s plans to eliminate community college tuition could encourage more high school students to apply to community college. More students could have access to higher education and more could transfer from community colleges to four-year institutions, she added.
“There’s a lot of community college students who might just stay in community college because they know that there’s a lot of financial drawbacks coming to a four-year university,” Zarkesh said. “If we have free community college, that could take a lot of the (financial) burden off.”
Gándara said Biden’s administration should also focus on the student loan crisis.
She added the Biden administration should return to the policy from the era of former President Barack Obama to impose regulations on loan companies from pocketing a portion of the money because President Donald Trump’s administration loosened restrictions against the practice.
It may be difficult for Biden to get his planned legislation on higher education passed if the Republican Party gains control of the Senate, Gándara said. As of Wednesday, the Associated Press has called 33 of the 35 seats available in the 2020 election. The Republican Party holds 50 seats while the Democratic Party holds 46. The remaining two seats will likely be decided by runoff elections in Georgia.
Either party needs 51 seats to have a majority.
Gándara added the uncertain financial state of the country during and after the COVID-19 pandemic may hinder Biden’s higher education agenda.
But if Biden can execute his proposals for higher education, it could make higher education more equitable, Gándara said.
“Currently, the way (higher education) operates is really very unequal and unfair,” Gándara said. “It isn’t based as much on how hard you worked in high school and how well you did as it is on your ability to pay (tuition). Hopefully (Biden’s plans will) put us on better footing and in a direction that is more equitable.”