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Clinton Adopts Key Piece of Sanders Student Debt Plan

Clinton will announce a plan to make in-state public colleges and universities free for students from families who make less than $125,000 a year.
Image: Clinton walks on the tarmac as she arrives to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, followed by aide Huma Abedin, second from right, walks on the tarmac as she arrives to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., on July 5, 2016. President Barack Obama and Clinton are traveling to Charlotte, N.C. to campaign together.Jose Luis Magana / AP

Extending an olive branch to Bernie Sanders and his supporters, Hillary Clinton on Wednesday will announce a plan to make in-state public colleges and universities free for students from families who make less than $125,000 a year.

Sanders made free in-state tuition a core plank of his campaign for the Democratic nomination, and Clinton and Sanders discussed the issue in their meeting last month, according to a Clinton aide.

Sanders hailed the news as “a revolutionary step forward for higher education” in an uncharacteristically positive statement about a Clinton initiative.

“I want to take this opportunity to applaud Secretary Clinton for the very bold initiative she has just brought forth today for the financing of higher education. This proposal combines some of the strongest ideas she fought for during the campaign with some of the principles that I fought for. The final product is a result of the work of both campaigns,” Sanders said.

Both campaigns said aides worked behind the scenes closely to hammer out the plan.

During the primary, Clinton often mocked Sanders' free college plan as too expensive, saying she didn't want taxpayers to pay for Donald Trump's kids' education. However, her plan includes an income cap Sanders' did not.

“American families are drowning in debt caused by ever-rising college costs," Clinton said in statement, "and it is imperative that the next president put forward a bold plan to make debt-free college available to all. My New College Compact will do just that.”

The announcement comes exactly a month after Clinton clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, and amid an ongoing struggle between supporters of both candidates over what should be included in the Democratic platform.

Related: Hillary Clinton Email Claims Collapse Under FBI Investigation

Sanders has yet to endorse Clinton, though he said he will vote for her, and has not yet indicated when he might exit the race.

On Wednesday, Clinton will add the three new components to her “New College Compact” affordability plan, which she rolled out months ago.

The biggest is an attempt to provide tuition-free access to college for up to 80% of families.

The plan would start by making in-state colleges and university free for students from families making $85,000 a year or less. That income threshold would then climb by $10,000 a year until 2021, when in-state schools would then be free to all families who make $125,000 or less.

Clinton will also announce a proposal to create a three-month moratorium on student loan payments to all federal borrowers. The idea would be to allow students to use this period to get a better handle on their debt by offering them assistance, re-financing options, and more.

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And finally, Clinton wants to restore year-round Pell Grants, which would help students get funding for summer classes.

A Clinton aide said student debt and the rising cost of tuition were among the most common issues Clinton heard about from voters while campaigning during the primary.

Clinton has struggled to win over young voters, who overwhelming went for Sanders during the primary campaign. She’ll need turnout from this key Democratic constituency in November, which was crucial to both of President Obama’s victories.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which helped put debt-free college on Democrats’ radar, hailed the plan. "This represents a doubling down by Hillary Clinton on the idea that if you're a student in America, you should be able to attend your state's public colleges or universities and graduate with zero debt,” said the group’s co-founder, Adam Green.