Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

Why Sanders' Free Tuition Plan Is A Major Leap in the Right Direction

Author: Steve Hough
Created: 07 March, 2016
Updated: 21 November, 2022
4 min read

As I previously argued that Bernie Sanders’ proposal for a universal single payer health care plan needed work, his proposal for tuition-free college is also on the right track, but could benefit from some modifications. However, it is far from being “pure fantasy” as described in a recent editorial written by Jay Stooksberry on IVN.

Before listing the six points of his plan, his campaign website states, “As President, Bernie Sanders will fight to make sure that every American who studies hard in school can go to college regardless of how much money their parents make and without going deeply into debt.”

Nowhere in the six points that follow does he specify what the qualifications will be to receive free tuition.

Make Tuition Free at Public Colleges

Bernie argues that because other countries do this, we should be able to do it too. I do not disagree, but he fails to spell out how students would qualify for free tuition. I would support it (along with other financial assistance) for students having a financial need and having demonstrated academic achievement. I would also stipulate that the assistance be dependent on choosing a career path where job opportunities exist.

With the knowledge that such assistance would be available, I believe there would be greater incentive for those in less fortunate circumstances to aspire to a better future and motivate them to take primary education more seriously.

Just as we cannot dismiss the potential benefits of a single-payer health care plan, based on evidence that other countries’ plans may have specific problems, we should not blindly accept the notion that we should have free tuition simply because other countries have such plans.

However, a synergy would exist between this proposal and his proposal for single-payer health care. A portion of these benefits could be directed to training additional health care providers as needed to accommodate an expanded demand for services.

Additionally, it could also be argued that the right plan would offset the demand for more H-1B visas in targeted fields.

Stop Federal Government from Making a Profit on Student Loans

Given that government agencies differ in their opinion whether or not the government “profits” from federal student loans, why not just say the federal government shouldn't be in the business of student lending? If free tuition is available for qualified applicants, the government should let private institutions stand on their own when providing loans to others.

Cutting Interest Rates and Allowing Current Debtors to Refinance at Lower Rates

Even though the necessity of unsecured loans commanding higher interest rates is not disputed, mistakes of the past are no reason not to take corrective action. One does not demolish a house because the roof leaks. Additionally, many student loans are guaranteed by the government, thus eliminating lender risk.

Student debt is crippling many who have not been able to find jobs in proportion with their level of education. Some of that can be blamed on the student’s choice of major field of study, and some of it can be attributed to the economy in general.

While steps have been taken to adjust the monthly payments on some students’ debt, I would suggest that we look beyond the politics and allow outstanding student loans to be refinanced at lower rates as well. That rate could be zero, if the government accepted the responsibility of collection as opposed to merely guaranteeing the loans.

In my opinion, the rate charged should be no higher than the government’s cost to finance new debt.

Increase of Need-Based Scholarships and Work-Study for Low-Income Students

If free tuition (and other financial assistance) is based on financial need and academic achievement, not only would there be no need to increase spending on other programs, they could be eliminated entirely. Furthermore, there would be no need to worry about an often cited concern that rich kids who might be attending public universities could take advantage of it.

Tax on Wall Street Speculation

While the front-runner for the GOP has also demonized Wall Street speculators, I would suggest the best way to handle funding would be as part of an overall tax reform plan. Taxing short-term capital gains as ordinary income (at higher rates than both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders propose), without exception, would be the simplest way to achieve the stated goal without adding bureaucratic overhead or penalizing the casual trader.

The type of funding proposals we now see are devised as a result of PAYGO and often do not represent the best solution. Just like funding for a single-payer health care plan, everything from educational assistance to bringing manufacturing jobs back home is interrelated and tied to tax policy.

Bernie Sanders is not proposing the same, tired “tax and spend” agenda. He is proposing that we put an end to the status quo. Although his proposals need work, he is on the right track, and I would gladly spend the next four years in a public debate about his ideas rather than more of the same.

No president can enact his or her policy proposals on their own, but we have enough experience to justify hope that a win by Bernie Sanders will translate into Sanders Democrats also winning congressional seats in the next mid-term election.

Photo Credit: David Gilder / Shutterstock.com

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