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Pete with a band of supporters

The American Opportunity Agenda

Affordable College, Stronger Workforce Development, & Lifelong Learning

When you come from a family of educators like I do, you know the power of learning to open new horizons and opportunities. As our world and our economy change, access to ongoing higher education is increasingly necessary to thrive. But for too many Americans that opportunity is out of reach.

For many Americans, college has been a pathway to the middle class. Yet today, it costs students and their families more than ever. The federal Pell Grant used to cover nearly 80 percent of the cost of tuition, fees, and room and board; today, it covers just 29 percent.Protopsaltis, Spiros, and Sharon Parrott. “Pell Grants - a Key Tool for Expanding College Access and Economic Opportunity - Need Strengthening, Not Cuts.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. July 27, 2017. The average graduate with a bachelor’s degree starts their life with around $30,000 of debt.Trends in Student Aid - Figure 14. College Board. 2019.

As our world and our economy change, access to ongoing higher education is increasingly necessary to thrive. But for too many Americans that opportunity is out of reach.

And more than 40 percent of students don’t even make it to graduation.Shapiro, Doug, Afet Dundar, Faye Huie, Phoebe Khasiala Wakhungu, Ayesha Bhimdiwala, and Sean Eric Wilson. “Completing College: A National View of Student Completion Rates—Fall 2012 Cohort.” National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. December 2018. Students who drop out with debt but no degree are significantly more likely to struggle with loan repayment, and may even default.Duncan, Arne. “Toward a New Focus on Outcomes in Higher Education.” U.S. Department of Education. July 27, 2015.

In America, opportunities for success shouldn’t be limited to those with a college degree. As important as it is to make college affordable, it must also be possible to land a well-paying job and launch a career without going to college. As our labor market evolves, well-paying jobs and careers requiring only a high school diploma are harder to find. We need to ensure that workers have access to the training and education that will make them—and our economy—successful.

We need to ensure that workers have access to the training and education that will make them—and our economy—successful.

Our ability to compete internationally, to innovate and grow our economy, to expand our middle class, and to make sure children have a better life than their parents will be shaped by the education we make available to Americans. This plan will:

Improve College Affordability & Completion

More and more Americans see college as a privilege for the wealthy, out of reach for working- and middle-class students.

Even once they enroll, for too many students a college degree remains an unfulfilled dream. More than 40 percent of students who start college do not graduate. Institutions graduate Black and Latinx students at lower rates than their white classmates.Shapiro, Doug, Afet Dundar, Faye Huie, Phoebe Khasiala Wakhungu, Ayesha Bhimdiwala, and Sean Eric Wilson. “Completing College: A National View of Student Completion Rates—Fall 2012 Cohort.” National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. December 2018.“2017 Annual and Social Economic Supplement.” U.S. Census Bureau. 2017.

Challenges persist once students graduate. Every year, over a million borrowers default on their loans for the first time.New Direct Loan Defaults.” Federal Student Aid. 2019. Millions more struggle to repay their debts.Federal Student Aid -- Portfolio by Delinquency Status.” Federal Student Aid. 2019. Pete believes every American should be able to get a high-quality, affordable education. As President, he will:

Enable 10 million more students to graduate with high-quality college degrees and credentials over the next decade.

Pete's Goal for Graduation Rates

Provide free college for those who need it.

Pete will make public tuition free for 80% of American families, including all families earning up to $100,000 and many middle-income families with multiple children. He will also provide substantial tuition subsidies for students from families earning up to $150,000 and require that states improve affordability for all students.

Add $120 billion to the Pell Grant program, including increasing the size of the maximum Pell Grant by $1,000.

Pete will tie Pell Grants to inflation to keep up with rising tuition and living costs. This will ensure that after we've covered tuition for the lowest-income students, there is enough left over for basic necessities like housing and food. Pete will also guarantee funding for Pell Grants through mandatory entitlement spending.

Invest an additional $50 billion in HBCUs, Tribal Colleges, and Minority-Serving Institutions over the next decade.

In addition to supporting capital and instructional costs, funds may be used for need-based aid to reduce student debt burdens and to promote strategies that support student needs and promote college completion.

I grew up in a very rural, very poor household. I had some great teachers along the way who recognized my abilities and helped to foster my desire to learn. Unfortunately, the system failed me as the guidance counselors in my community never took the time to educate me on my choices for a higher education. Never did they explain what financial aid was or that I could have an opportunity for college based on academic performance in high school. My family couldn’t tell me these things because none of them had the knowledge themselves.
— Jodi, New York

Invest in our local communities by creating a $1 billion community college fund.

This will address common barriers for college students such as exposure to in-demand career fields, career and academic coaching, child care, and transportation. A Buttigieg administration will also reward community colleges that are working to better meet their communities’ educational and career needs.

Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for most students.

To help close a huge gap in college access for lower-income high school students, Pete’s administration will both notify students of their eligibility for Pell Grants automatically starting in 9th grade, and have the federal government complete most of their federal student assistance application for them.

Ensure students don’t go hungry.

Pete will pursue solutions to end food insecurity among college students. He will invest in a $2 billion pilot to expand the bipartisan free and reduced-price lunch program to provide food vouchers to students in community colleges.Goldrick-Rab, Sara. Katharine Broton and Emily Brunjes Colo. “Expanding the National School Lunch Program to Higher Education.” Wisconsin Hope Lab. April 25, 2016.


Promote fairness for student-athletes.

Pete will support regulation and legislation like California’s new bipartisan Fair Pay to Play Act, which ensures student-athletes can seek compensation for the use of their images, just like other college students, and engage agents to represent them in the marketplace.

Make student loans less burdensome and more affordable.

Automatically enroll struggling student borrowers in affordable, income-driven repayment plans.

Student borrowers will be automatically enrolled when they fall behind on their payments or indicate they are struggling to repay their debt. Pete will also help all borrowers stay enrolled in income-driven plans. These loans will be cancelled, tax-free, after borrowers have been enrolled in the income-based plan for 20 years.

Cancel debt for borrowers who attended unaffordable for-profit programs.

Pete will aggressively pursue accountability for for-profit colleges that leave students with unaffordable debt and without viable job prospects.

Provide earlier student loan forgiveness to public servants and full debt cancellation after 10 years of service.

Those who are working in government service or non-profit organizations will have their debt cancelled incrementally based on their years of service, at an accelerated rate. A Buttigieg administration will also improve the management of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Plan and invest $100 million to increase workers’ access to public service jobs.

Put borrowers first.

Pete will limit marketing from student loan servicers, make credit reporting on student loans fair and transparent, and update protections on borrowers’ other federal benefits from debt collection. Pete will also end wage garnishment and other collections on defaulted student loans for low-income borrowers.

Pete's plan for student loans and debt

We were notified by my university—a week before national college decision day and many weeks after requests for deposits and housing applications—that this university did not follow the FAFSA recommendation. In order to attend, I would need to pay $37,000 a year. This amount of money is not a possibility for me or my family without the crushing presence of debt.
— Rachel, Idaho

Invest in the American Workforce

For too many Americans, the transition from education to the labor market is not working—especially for low-income Americans, Black and Latinx Americans, and other Americans of color. Most Americans pursue higher education to secure a good job, but millions emerge with debt and no degree. Disparities in completion rates are compounded by a labor market that leaves behind those without strong work experience and professional networks. Pete knows that as important as it is to make college affordable, it must also be possible to get a well-paying job and launch or advance a career in more ways than one.

As President, Pete will invest more than $50 billion in workforce development and lifelong learning. Local non-profits, unions, employers, and community colleges have created proven pathways for young and middle-age workers to enter into good jobs. In addition to increasing workplace protections and worker power through his New Rising Tide plan, Pete will invest federal dollars into these programs so that incomes can grow for all workers, whether or not they have a college degree. Specifically, he will:

Double annual investments in career and technical education programs in high schools and colleges.

Pete will partner with industry to invest in a world-class career and technical education system. Pete will also dedicate funds for state and industry partnerships designed so all high school students in career and technical education programs can receive free college credit, earn industry credentials, and engage in work-based learning. His administration will support a tax deduction for employers that offer paid work experience through internships and youth apprenticeships.

Expand and strengthen American apprenticeships through a $10 billion investment.

Pete will invest $1 billion more each year to double the number of apprentices, particularly in non-traditional industry sectors like IT, health care, advanced manufacturing, clean energy, and education. Specifically, he will provide a challenge grant program to incentivize states to strengthen their apprenticeship systems, establish industry-specific “centers of excellence”, and create a federal apprenticeship service.

Pete's plan for workforce development

Provide $100 million annually in scaling locally-driven, public-private workforce partnerships that deliver results for local workers and businesses.

Pete will provide performance-driven grants in innovative regional workforce partnerships that build on proven practices. This includes support for local sector partnerships. Pete will also ensure these funds support the success of all workers through proven career pathway programs that integrate training with career services and other supportive services like child care, basic education, and counseling.Gueron, Judith. Gayle Hamilton. “The Role of Education and Training in Welfare Reform.” The Brookings Institution. April, 2002.

As someone who works in the construction industry, I don't see enough emphasis being put on vocational/trade schools. The average age of a trade employee is almost 50 years old, which means that most of them will be retiring shortly. This, and the fact that over the last 30 years we have pushed most kids into the college track, will leave a skilled labor shortage in our country. These are good jobs that require lots of skill and time to learn. A lot of these jobs earn a very good living comparable to most other middle-class jobs.
— Matthew, New York

Form a presidential “Skills Cabinet” to develop and invest in the first-ever skills strategy for the United States.

To ensure we have the most skilled workforce as we move into the future, Pete’s Skills Cabinet will build on best practices from states and task the Secretaries of Labor, Education, and Commerce to work with industry and labor leaders to develop a five-year skills strategy that will guide an increase of $2 billion each year in targeted workforce programs.

Strengthen College Transparency, Safety, & Oversight

When students enroll in college, they are making a life-altering decision. But many are forced to make those decisions in a black box—signing checks to pay for a college education that may or may not pay off. Unscrupulous for-profit colleges have taken advantage of students, particularly service members and veterans. And many students are unsafe on campus, with one in five women reporting sexual assault while in collegeStatistics about Sexual Violence.” National Sexual Violence Resource Center. 2015. and active-shooter situations ever more common.Cannon, Ashley. “Aiming at Students: The College Gun Violence Epidemic.” Citizens Crime Commission of New York City. October 2016. Students deserve better information and safe learning environments. To address these challenges, a Buttigieg administration will:

Implement the gainful employment rules that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has eliminated.

Pete will reinstate rules that hold career-college programs accountable when their graduates take on too much debt relative to their earnings, cracking down on programs that overcharge students for low-value degrees.

Provide debt relief to students whose colleges lied to them.

A Buttigieg administration will also deter future wrongdoing by holding those institutions liable for the costs of debt forgiveness. Similarly, Pete will ensure that eligible borrowers whose colleges close before they can graduate see their loans automatically forgiven.

Close a loophole that leads for-profit colleges to target service members and veterans.

A Buttigieg administration will require that all taxpayer financial aid—including Defense Department Tuition Assistance and GI Bill dollars to veterans—count toward federal protections for students and taxpayers.

Betsy DeVos

Provide more relevant information to students about outcomes and costs.

All colleges receiving funds from the Department of Education will be required to provide students with clear, comprehensive, and accurate data on student debt, graduation rates, post-college earnings, and repayment outcomes. Pete’s administration will also make the data publicly available through a user-friendly website to help students make college choices based on value.

I started these loans at age 18 with zero knowledge of the ‘real-world’ or understanding of how loans work. I knew my family couldn't help pay for college, so loans would be my only option. People reassured me that I'd be able to pay it back easily as soon as I graduated because I'd have ‘real’ money instead of the minimum wage I'd made as a teenage convenience store cashier. I thought a college degree meant ‘real’ money, and that I could build a better life.
— Mallory, South Carolina

Empower women to reach their full potential in college.

Pete will institute strong Title IX protections and support comprehensive, campus-based sexual violence prevention through Department of Education leadership and funding. Pete’s administration will also recognize that Title IX protects transgender students.

Support efforts to keep guns off college or university campuses.

Pete will enact extreme risk laws, also known as red flag laws, to empower loved ones, classmates, and educators to intervene to temporarily protect someone in crisis from accessing firearms. He will also support legislative efforts to restrict access to guns on educational campuses.

In America, your income and educational choices shouldn’t limit your opportunities. If you’re with us, text EDUCATION to 25859.

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