Behind the Headline: Democrats Propose Tuition-Free Public College, Vow to Lower Student Debt

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Democrats Propose Tuition-Free Public College, Vow to Lower Student Debt
Washington Post | 10/14/2015

Behind the Headline
Should Community College Be Free?
Education Next | Winter 2016

K-12 education issues were not addressed during last night’s first official Democratic debate in Las Vegas but college affordability was in the spotlight. Frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both promoted proposals for reducing student debt and providing free tuition to public colleges.

While Clinton would require students to work at least 10 hours a week in exchange for attending a public university or college “tuition free,” Sanders would not impose this restriction.

The presidential candidates also shared competing plans to fund their ideas. Lyndsey Layton notes

Clinton has said she wants to fund her plan, which she estimates would cost $350 billion over 10 years, by closing tax loopholes. The money would be sent to states to increase their investment in public colleges and universities and to lower the interest rates on student loans. States that enroll a high number of low- and middle-income students would receive more money, as would those states where public universities reduce expenses.

Sanders wants to tax Wall Street transactions and use the money to make public colleges and universities free to anyone.


Earlier this year, President Obama proposed making community college free for all students. In the Winter 2016 issue of Education Next, Sara Goldrick-Rab and Andrew P. Kelly debate the merits of a free community college program.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, Professor of Educational Policy studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-author of a paper that helped shape President Obama’s free community college plan, writes that the economy needs more workers with associate degrees but that attending college is currently far too expensive for many Americans.

Offering a competing perspective, Andrew P. Kelly, Director of the Center on Higher Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute, argues that the Obama community college plan will not address low rates of college readiness and student success. Kelly predicts that a free community college plan will strain public budgets and crowd out innovation.

For more, please read “Should Community College Be Free?” by Sara Goldrick-Rab and Andrew P. Kelly, in the Winter 2016 issue of Education Next.

— Education Next

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