Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren released a very good college affordability plan. In terms of tuition and expenses, her plan would do the following:
That’s why I’m proposing a historic new federal investment in public higher education that will eliminate the cost of tuition and fees at every public two-year and four-year college in America. The federal government will partner with states to split the costs of tuition and fees and ensure that states maintain their current levels of funding on need-based financial aid and academic instruction….
To allow students to graduate debt-free — especially students from lower-income families — we must expand the funding available to cover non-tuition expenses. In addition to the existing federal higher education funding that can be redirected to cover non-tuition expenses, we should invest an additional $100 billion over the next ten years in Pell Grants — and expand who is eligible for a Grant — to make sure lower-income and middle-class students have a better chance of graduating without debt. Research shows that more funding for non-tuition costs helps improve graduation rates, which must be our goal…
We must do more to correct these historical injustices and to ensure that opportunities are fairly available to everyone. My plan will:
- Create a fund for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs). The fund will have a minimum of $50 billion, but the Secretary of Education will have the authority to increase the amount of money in the fund as needed to ensure that spending per-student at those schools is comparable to colleges in the area.
- Make additional federal funding available to states that demonstrate substantial improvement in enrollment and graduation rates for lower-income students and students of color.
- After an appropriate transition period, ban for-profit colleges from receiving any federal dollars (including military benefits and federal student loans), so they can no longer use taxpayer dollars to enrich themselves while targeting lower-income students, servicemembers, and students of color and leaving them saddled with debt.
- Require public colleges to complete an annual audit that identifies issues creating shortfalls in enrollment and graduation rates for lower-income students and students of color and that proposes steps to improve those rates.
- Prohibit public colleges from considering citizenship status or criminal history in admissions decisions.
What’s really novel though, is Warren’s proposal to cancel student loan debt:
Here’s what my new plan would do:
- It cancels $50,000 in student loan debt for every person with household income under $100,000.
- It provides substantial debt cancellation for every person with household income between $100,000 and $250,000. The $50,000 cancellation amount phases out by $1 for every $3 in income above $100,000, so, for example, a person with household income of $130,000 gets $40,000 in cancellation, while a person with household income of $160,000 gets $30,000 in cancellation.
- It offers no debt cancellation to people with household income above $250,000 (the top 5%).
- For most Americans, cancellation will take place automatically using data already available to the federal government about income and outstanding student loan debt.
- Private student loan debt is also eligible for cancellation, and the federal government will work with borrowers and the holders of this debt to provide relief.
- Canceled debt will not be taxed as income.
It’s very good, though there are a few potential problems. I’m worried about the part “The federal government will partner with states to split the costs of tuition and fees”, as we’ve learned from the ACA that Republican-run states will spite themselves (or more accurately, their citizens) just so Democratic policies can fail. Nobody thought Republicans would be that awful, but they were!
I’m also not a big fan of means testing this: it seems like it might add some complexity to a simple system, though I do like how the loan repayment program realizes there are a lot of people who are already screwed.
One other thing I would like to see is a willingness to use this as an opportunity to reform the educational workplace. In 2016, Sanders, as part of his tuition plan, proposed that, to receive ‘federal tuition’, an institution would have to ensure that 75% of its faculty are tenure-track or other full time hires. Adjuncts are the forgotten underclass of the academy and deserve a better deal.
All that said, it’s a very good program, and it shows that our Democrats is learning!–people have to like this crap. This is the good shit. In particular, it would close racial disparities.
Aside: I’ll be keeping track of how many of those who squealed in 2016 about how ‘college shouldn’t be free’ when Sanders proposed a more modest plan are now going Full Power to the People. It will be fun!