Democrats Calling for Debt-Free College Education!

Dear Commons Community,

In the past week, several Democrats opened again the idea of “debt-free” college.  Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley told supporters in an email “every student should be able to go to college debt-free,” according to Politico Morning Education.  Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has formally proposed a bill to make state colleges tuition-free.  It is also expected that Hillary Clinton will be proposing debt-free college shortly.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) laid out her plan on Wednesday that would create a pathway for a debt-free college education.  As reported in The Huffington Post: 

“In a speech at the Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers headquarters in Washington, D.C., Warren called for restoring bankruptcy options for student loans, eliminating government profits for public student loans and new proposals to get colleges to have some “skin in the game” on whether their graduates are buried in debt.

“We can’t make change by nibbling around the edges,” Warren said in her speech,according to a copy of remarks. “It’s time to dramatically reform higher education, to move the whole system toward greater affordability for everyone. And while not every college needs to graduate every student debt-free, every kid needs a debt-free option — a strong public university where it’s possible to get a great education without taking on loads of debt. It’s time to open the doors of opportunity wider and to invest in our future.”

Much of Warren’s plan is focused more on state universities than private ones. The Massachusetts Democrat and former Harvard University professor has repeatedly said she wants to focus on bringing down costs for students at public colleges. Her speech builds on a resolution she and other congressional Democrats introduced in April calling for debt-free public college.

Warren’s plan also reinforces a continued push by progressives on the small field of 2016 Democratic presidential contenders. The New York Federal Reserve has found a correlation between state budget cuts and higher tuition at state universities, and a Government Accountability Report this year concluded student tuition now pays more than state funding does for public college spending.

Warren’s plan had three points she said would increase accountability for colleges. First, the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute has called for colleges to have “skin in the game,” Warren noted, suggesting that one component should be a cost for colleges when too many of their graduates default on their student loans.

Second, Warren said, the federal government should “require schools to spend a minimum proportion of their federal financial aid revenues on expenses directly related to education. Call it the rule against ‘taxpayer waste.'” She elaborated briefly that this means controlling how much schools can spend on administrators and marketing departments.

And third, Warren called for a “shared savings” to reward colleges that graduate students within four years.”

Congratulations to Warren and others for making these proposals but they are very unlikely to have much of a chance of passing in the Republican-controlled Congress. At an event in Washington on Tuesday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate education committee, dismissed debt-free college as political pandering.


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