Bernie Sanders’ plan for free college and debt cancellation, explained
Senator Bernie Sanders’ proposal to make university free in the United States has just been broadened: he also wants to erase all student debt. All $ 1.6 trillion of it.
The Vermont senator will unveil the most ambitious higher education plan for the 2020 Democratic presidential primary to date on Monday. The proposal would make two- and four-year public and tribal colleges and universities tuition-free and debt-free, and wipe out the estimated $ 1.6 trillion in student debt currently owed in the United States, paid by a Wall Street tax. .
Currently, about 45 million Americans have student loans. It would cancel the debt of everyone, regardless of their income or assets. This is a notable difference from Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Free University Proposal, which also provides general debt relief, but caps it for households with incomes over $ 250,000.
Sanders offers funding streams to historically black states, tribes, and colleges and universities (HBCUs) to enable them to eliminate tuition and undergraduate fees. The bill would also increase spending on work-study programs and create federal grant programs for low-income students for the additional costs of obtaining an education, housing and transportation to purchase. of books.
The proposal would cost $ 2.2 trillion over 10 years, which Sanders said would be paid for with his Wall Street tax. He proposed a speculation tax on Wall Street in 2016, which would increase small levies on the buying and selling of stocks, bonds and derivatives; many experts believe it could reap hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Sanders’ office cited as progressive economist Robert Pollin’s screening that the tax would bring in $ 2.4 trillion in revenue over 10 years.
One of Sanders’ signature issues is the free college. He called the prohibitive costs of higher education “national shame. “It was one of the many proposals that set him apart in the 2016 presidential primary against Hillary Clinton, who argued that the government should not subsidize the education of the wealthiest Americans. Three years later , it is clear that Sanders’ vision is bottom-up within the Democratic Party.
“We think by definition that if you are the top elite, you wouldn’t have had to take out student loans,” Sanders spokesperson Keane Bhatt told Vox. “There is something to be said for simple and intelligible policies that build large constituencies. “
Sanders’ newest College for All Act, briefly explained
Here’s how the Sanders College for All Act would work:
The federal government would give states and tribes at least $ 48 billion a year, under a two-for-one federal matching program, if states commit to eliminating tuition and fees in the universities and public colleges.
To receive federal funding, states and tribes would have to meet certain requirements: they would essentially have to show the Department of Education that they will maintain higher education funding and financial aid as needed and depend on less assistant professors to teach. States and tribes should also show that they can cover the full cost of higher education for the poorest families, those earning less than $ 25,000. For tribal colleges with at least 75 percent low-income student enrollment – students eligible for the Pell Grant – the federal government would cover 95 percent of the costs to eliminate tuition and fees.
Federal funding has restrictions: it cannot go to administrator salaries, any merit-based financial aid, or non-university buildings like brand new football stadiums.
While this is a universal program – students of all financial backgrounds would benefit from the elimination of tuition fees – the proposal specifically targets low-income students by increasing the federal Pell Grant program, tripling funding of the work-study program and creating a federal dollar-for-dollar match with the states to eliminate the additional costs associated with university studies.
HBCUs and Institutions Serving Minorities (MSIs) would also be eligible for this federal funding. Sanders’ proposal allocates $ 1.3 billion per year to reduce tuition and fees at private nonprofit universities and colleges with at least 35% of students from low-income households. About 200 institutions would be eligible, Sanders’ office said.
The proposal also caps student loan interest rates at the same rate the federal government pays for its debt.
All in all, this bill, introduced with progressive representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), is a larger version of Sanders’ original proposal for a free college in 2016. Which was originally a tuition-free proposal with a provision for refinancing student loans and became a debt-free and tuition-free proposal.
This is a clear departure from the free college plan that Clinton offered and Sanders approved like the College for All Act of 2017. This bill would have eliminated tuition and fees for families earning up to $ 125,000, conceding to Clinton’s argument that the government should not have to cover the costs of families who can afford to ‘send their children to college.
There are currently several Democratic candidates on the field who share these concerns, but Sanders is no longer heeding them.
How Sanders’ plan compares to other Democrats in the race
Sanders’ campaign in 2016 normalized the free university in Democratic politics. In the current field, Warren and Sanders have similar proposals with one main difference.
Warren’s student debt relief is means tested. As Ella Nilsen from Vox explained, Warren’s plan cancels $ 50,000 in student loan debt for every person with a household income of less than $ 100,000, and offers “substantial debt forgiveness” to everyone whose household income is between $ 100,000 and $ 250,000. Those earning more than $ 250,000 would not be eligible. In total, Warren’s plan is estimated at $ 1.25 trillion over a decade, almost a trillion less than Sanders’.
The most centrist Democrats in the race, like former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), are offering a free two-year community college, although Biden argued four years of free college in 2015.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has supported various proposals, including the more moderate Clinton / Sanders plan that eliminates tuition and fees for families earning up to $ 125,000 a year.
In the meantime, other candidates have also presented proposals for cost relief. Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA) offers interest-free federal student loans. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is supporting a debt and tuition-free college for low-income families, and a tuition-free college for middle-income families.
The big question: will states join?
Since public colleges in the United States are run at the state level, implementing a tuition-free, debt-free universal university program requires state buy-in. Sanders’ proposal, like Warren’s, requires states to enter into a voluntary agreement with the federal government. As Nilsen writes, “If states don’t want to take the money, their universities are left out of the equation.
This is the uphill battle associated with all federal-state partnership agendas – and it can backfire, as with the Affordable Care Act, where many conservative states have rejected the healthcare plan. health. Medicaid extension despite a much more generous federal match.
The Sanders team does not take ACA as a warning, however; some red states voted to expand Medicaid in the 2018 midterm elections, as Sanders spokesman Bhatt pointed out. And that won’t be a concern for historically black private colleges who might want to participate.
One of the other biggest criticisms of the free college and debt relief proposals is an argument made by Clinton in 2016: The government should not subsidize school for people who can easily afford it.
“Going to college free for everyone is not a very progressive way of approaching this because a lot of rich kids will benefit from it,” Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), who leads a more moderate Democratic presidential campaign. to an Iowa campaign event in may. Buttigieg made a similar point in April.
But in Sanders’ book, Americans have a right to “the right to a full education.”
“You have lower class people, middle class people, upper middle class people who are all getting student debt relief and boosting the value of the university,” Bhatt said of the Sanders vision. “If Ivanka Trump decides she wants to go to [Pennsylvania State University], There is no problem with that. It is part of the reflection.