In two short weeks, Americans will go to the polls and elect their president for the next four years. For many students this could be the first presidential election they vote in, and understanding what each candidate will do for students is important - their policies are likely to affect college fees, funding, debt, and the economic and social picture of the world students graduate into.
American politics is complicated, and just because one party wins the presidency does not mean that the president has free reign to implement any policies they like. Most changes will still need to be passed by the House of Representatives – where the Democrats currently hold the majority – and/or the Senate, where the Republicans currently have the majority.
However, the president is an important figurehead for the country, and also the chief legislator – about 85% of all bills that are passed originate in the White House – so whoever wins the election will have a significant impact on the legislation that is considered in both houses over the next four years.
Donald Trump is running for reelection as the Republican candidate, whilst Joe Biden wants to be voted in as the Democratic candidate. Which one wins will have a lot of influence on people who live, work, and visit America – including students, both domestic and international. Here’s what each candidate has to say on the main issues that affect students.
College fees in the US are a big deal, with state universities charging an average of $26,290 per year for out-of-state students, and private universities charging $35,830 per year on average - and that’s just for domestic students. Out of state fees are likely to be the same as international student fees, but if you aren’t a US citizen you’re unlikely to be able to access federal or state funding.
Reforming the college fee system is always a hot topic in American politics, and Joe Biden has the biggest plans to change it. He wants to introduce free four-year college for students with family incomes up to $125,000 at public institutions. He also wants to give Americans the option of going to community college for two years, debt-free. The proposals will initially cost around $50 billion, but a recent Georgetown University study suggests that Biden’s plan would pay for itself within ten years by producing more tax revenues than it pays out.
Donald Trump hasn’t said a lot about college fees, suggesting he doesn’t have many plans to change them. Going off his previous term it’s fair to say that he’s unlikely to make changes that are anything like as radical as Joe Biden’s free college plan.
Funding and debt
Since college is so expensive in the US, most students require some form of financial help during their degree, and most will accumulate debt afterwards. Student debt has become one of the major issues in this year’s presidential election, with each candidate having very different ideas about how to address it.
Joe Biden wants to double the maximum value of the Pell Grant, one of America’s federal subsidies for undergraduate college students with financial need at participating colleges. He also wants to give those colleges that partake in the Pell Grant programme extra funding.
In terms of debt, Biden wants to introduce no-interest deferral of student loan paybacks for people earning under $25,000, meaning that they would not have to pay more for pushing back their student loan payments. He also wants to forgive the remainder of loans for those who have been “responsibly” making income-based repayments for 20 years. He argues that as well as relieving student debt, this will “enable graduates to pursue careers in public service and other fields without high levels of compensation”.
Biden also plans to expand the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Programme, granting public servants $10,000 of undergraduate or graduate student debt relief for every year of national or community service, up to five years.
Donald Trump also has plans for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Programme - if he is reelected, he will bring it to an end. He has, however, forgiven student debt for permanently disabled US military veterans.
Trump wants Pell Grants to be distributed year-round, rather than just in the spring and autumn.
In terms of debt, right now there are many options for American graduates looking to pay back their student loans. Trump wants to cut this down to just two options - one standard 10-year fixed plan, and one income-driven repayment plan. Trump’s income-driven repayment plan would offer loan forgiveness after 15 years – in contrast to Biden’s 20. He argues that reducing the options available for repaying loans makes the plans clearer for Americans.
Trump has also said that he wants to cap the amount students can borrow in student loans, but hasn’t given more detail than that.
Visas and immigration
This one is only really relevant for international students, or those wishing to study in the US on an exchange programme. To study in the US you’ll need an F1 or J1 visa, sponsored by the institution you have been given a place to study at.
Donald Trump is likely to try and limit these visas, going off his actions during his first term. His administration has already proposed harsh new restrictions that would see international students unable to stay in the country for longer than four years, and potentially only able to obtain two-year visas that would then need to be renewed for four-year degrees.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration also tried to ban international students from staying in the US unless their classes were fully online. Whilst the attempt was unsuccessful, with several major US colleges and universities hitting back at the government, the policy highlights Trump’s largely anti-immigration stance.
However, Joe Biden has made clear his commitment to international students through a tweet responding to this policy, where he wrote: “Across the world, people come to this country with unrelenting optimism and determination toward the future. They study here, innovate here, they make America who we are. Donald Trump doesn't get that — we need a president who does”.
Therefore, it’s unlikely that Biden will opt to strengthen any of the current visa policies, which allow students to stay in the country for the duration of their degree programmes.
Employment is always important for students - you pay a lot of money for a degree, and want to make sure you’ll get a worthwhile job at the end of it.
Both candidates, unsurprisingly, want to create jobs. Donald Trump has pledged to create 10 million of them in 10 months by supporting one million new businesses. In the first three years of his term the US economy created 6.6 million jobs – although some argue that he was building on an already relatively strong economy. Job creation is something Trump can and will shout about, as his record on it is already good.
Biden also wants to create “millions of middle-class jobs” through infrastructure investment, including in renewable energy and manufacturing.
He also says he will reform temporary work visas to ensure that employers are not disincentivized from hiring US workers, and increase the number of employment-based green cards available each year in an effort to keep recruiting foreign talent.