In the first Campus Press Briefing for the 2023-24 academic year, White House advisors and press representatives discussed pressing issues for college students nationwide, including college affordability, climate change, mental health initiatives and diversity in higher education institutions on Monday, Sept. 25.
Making a college education affordable and accessible is a top priority of the Biden Administration, according to White House Communications Director Ben LaBolt.
“President Biden understands the importance of a higher education. It’s got the power to unlock doors of opportunity for millions of students, like those who read your papers,” LaBolt said. “That’s why he’s been focused on fixing the broken student loan system and making college more affordable for students and families.”
The Biden Administration has approved $117 billion in targeted relief for 3.4 million borrowers through various initiatives. This includes $45 billion of debt relief through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program for public servants, including teachers, police officers and nurses, who make payments for 10 years.
“Historically, [public service] programs haven’t worked very well, and people who were supposed to be getting credit towards getting their loans forgiven for spending time in those areas didn’t get them,” said Bharat Ramamurti, Deputy Director for the National Economic Council. “Since the President came to office, he’s made those programs work a lot better. We’ve gone from a few hundred people getting their loan forgiveness under that program to tens of thousands of people getting their forgiveness.”
Launched in August, the new Saving on a Valuable Education Plan is an income-driven repayment plan where payments are dependent on a borrower’s income and family size, not their loan balance, and any remaining balance is forgiven after a certain number of years, depending on the original balance owed. The SAVE Plan cuts borrowers’ monthly payments to zero if they make less than $30,000 a year and saves around $1,000 a year for those making more than $30,000 a year relative to other income-driven repayment plans. Four million borrowers have already enrolled in the SAVE Plan, according to LaBolt.
LaBolt also noted that the President secured the largest increase in Pell Grants in more than a decade, with a $500 increase to the grant amount that qualified students receive which does not need to be repaid.
The Biden Administration is also actively pursuing alternative pathways to debt relief following the Supreme Court’s strike-down of the President’s original debt relief plan in June, which would have given 40 million borrowers up to $20,000 in debt relief.
“We know that many young people are worried about student loans as a barrier to opportunity. And the President’s hope is that all of these plans and all of these actions reassure students, reassure alumni, that the President has your back,” LaBolt said. “He won’t stop fighting to bring the promise of affordability to more students and families. And you can expect more actions of forgiveness to be announced in the coming weeks as well.”
LaBolt said that the President views climate change as “the one existential threat to humanity, an existential threat to the United States and something that he’s committed to taking the most substantial domestic and international action that’s ever been taken by a president before [to address].”
On Aug. 16, 2022, Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act — the most significant investment in climate in world history, LaBolt said.
“[The act] will enable our country to cut emissions in half by 2030,” LaBolt said. “It’s expected to double the amount of solar, wind and batteries that we could deploy across the country in the next 10 years as we transition to renewables, which will also create millions of jobs in the meantime.”
On Aug. 16 of this year, the U.S. Department of Energy released an updated report that said that the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — which Biden signed into law on Nov. 15, 2021 — would lower U.S. net greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
“Next, the President has been working hard to conserve America’s natural beauty and strengthen climate resilience,” LaBolt said. “I don’t think this has gotten as much attention as it deserves.”
Biden has protected over 21 million acres of public lands and waters — putting him on track to conserve more nature than any other president in history, according to LaBolt. He has also established five new national monuments, LaBolt said.
The Center for American Progress reported on Dec. 20, 2022, that in Biden’s first two years in office, he funneled more money into conservation projects than any other president in their first two years. Biden channeled $10.71 billion into conservation in his first two years, compared to President Donald Trump funneling $4.4 billion into conservation in that amount of time.
LaBolt also mentioned that on Wednesday, Biden established the American Climate Corps, which commits to providing job training for 20,000 young people to address the climate crisis.
“This [program] will train [young people] to do things like restore our lands and waters, bolster community resilience, deploy clean energy and implement energy-efficient technologies,” LaBolt said.
LaBolt acknowledged that students across the U.S. are currently grappling with various mental health obstacles.
“The President hears you; that’s why he’s created a mental health strategy as part of his Unity Agenda,” LaBolt said. “He’s committed to creating a mental health system that works for everyone and treating it with the parity with physical health that it deserves.”
The four-pronged Unity Agenda refers to Biden’s aim to tackle uplifting mental health, supporting veterans, accelerating progress against cancer and fighting the opioid epidemic through bipartisan cooperation.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act — which was signed into law on June 25, 2022 — invested approximately a billion dollars over the next five years to make mental health care resources more accessible to young people, LaBolt said.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the BCSA awards subgrants to high-need local education agencies to foster safer learning environments and reduce and react to bullying, violence and hate within educational communities.
“States are already using this money to hire and train more than 14,000 mental health professionals to work in America’s schools starting this fall and place trained providers in schools across the country,” LaBolt said.
LaBolt also said the President understands that young people require mental health resources outside school.
“Many folks depend on their health insurance to access this care, including more than two million young people who’ve gained health insurance since the President took office,” LaBolt said. “But some insurers have made it harder to access mental health care with long wait times and limited providers to choose from. And the President believes this isn’t fair. He believes that mental health is health.”
That is why, LaBolt said, the Biden administration has proposed a regulation to strengthen requirements for insurers to ensure mental health care that matches the level of physical health care offered.
LaBolt said that the President is also strengthening investments in the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, a resource that receives millions of calls and texts per year — including by current college graduates and recent alums.
“The President understands the importance of this resource, and he’s secured $200 million to help better serve people in crisis,” LaBolt said.
In response to a question about how the President is planning to support higher education institutions in light of the Supreme Court’s reversal of affirmative action admissions policies in June, LaBolt affirmed Biden’s commitment to student diversity.
“The President issued a statement certainly disagreeing with the Supreme Court’s decision,” LaBolt said. “He believes that diversity is a huge strength of the U.S.”
Biden released guidance to schools about including an adversity standard in the admissions process, which takes into consideration obstacles faced by applicants, such as how an applicant’s race affected their high school experiences.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre added that Biden has invested more than $7 billion in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and met with his board of advisors on HBCUs on Monday.
“[Biden] believes that HBCUs are certainly the center of academic excellence. You hear him say that all the time,” Jean-Pierre said.