As a word to the wise, you probably shouldn’t major in basket weaving. Despite being quite the niche career track, it’s also not a degree you might want to spend an upwards of $100,000 to receive. If you’re pursuing higher education today, you will very quickly be faced with the highest tuition and student debt rates of this and the past century, especially at public universities.
With the 2016 presidential election quickly approaching, only one candidate from either party has presented a clear and comprehensive plan to tackle the intertwined issues of tuition and student debt. Unsurprisingly — and in true millennial fashion — that candidate is Bernie Sanders.
Another non-surprise: none of the GOP candidates have provided a substantial plan to remediate climbing tuition rates and staggering student debt. Jeb Bush simply stated that “we do not need the federal government involved in this.” Candidates such as John Kasich have proposed symptom-treatment solutions in the form of revamping online school or vocational training. The rest have largely replied with the tired rationale that students should either suck it up or start flipping burgers — after all, that’s how your father paid for school. Unless your father is George H. W. Bush.
Hillary Clinton is facing quite the political quandary, and not an uncommon one: She needs to appeal to the left in order to take the primary, but she also has to appeal to independents and moderate conservatives during the general election. Thus, on student debt and tuition costs, Clinton has turned toward a moderate, pacifying offer: debt-free college.
However, her action plan is disappointingly unclear, especially in light of her straightforward plans on other topics. It’s too bad, especially considering her newfound youthful, energetic smiles and appearances on millennial favorites such as Saturday Night Live. If she’s trying to win the votes of college students and recent graduates, trying to solve their biggest problem might be a nice place to start. In her plans detailed on her website, Hillary for America, Clinton’s plans to achieve a debt-free higher education by ensuring that everyone “does their part” with parents expected to make a “realistic” contribution. Even with her offer to exclude Pell grant funds from student/parent contribution calculations, Clinton’s plan only accounts for the issue of debt rather than the problem that causes it. By allowing tuition fees to continue to climb, eventually Hillary’s plan must reach a ceiling at which the parties “pitching in” can no longer cover the total cost; after that occurs, students will largely be in the same situation in which they are currently finding themselves. So, put simply, good try.
Conversely, Sanders offers more: not only will higher education be debt-free, but for all public colleges and universities, he also plans on eliminating tuition altogether. The danger with such lofty goals is that they are often exceptionally difficult to achieve, especially with a partisan congress. However, the transparency he provides allows voters to better understand the specific actions which they might seek from this prospective president and from future Congresses. Moreover, most large industrialized nations have already taken these steps and have implemented nearly-identical programs successfully. Though the plan costs $75 billion, Sanders plans to pay for it through a tax on the top 1 percent of the 1 percent — a tax which itself represents an overall increase of only half a percent. Moreover, he plans to reinvest interest on student loans back into education in order to both eliminate the core need for loans as well as disincentivize the federal government to allow current tuition rates to continue. Finally, he plans to require public universities to cease tuition charges, allowing families to use grants to cover housing expenses.
In addition to being far more comprehensive than the Clinton plan, Sanders’s proposal actually treats the cause, rather than alleviating the ugliest realities of its symptoms. Admittedly, Sanders is promising much, and like Obama’s 2008 platform, it is doubtful that he will be able to achieve every piece of his platform, especially considering the current congressional temperature. Rather than pursuing a four-year span of public satisfaction, he pursues a problem-solving strategy. And, in the end, a logical application to a problem, independent of party incentives, has far more propensity for partisan support than a political move designed to garner it. The plan is comprehensive; the plan is logical. The goals are lofty; but truthfully, at least there are real goals at all.
As with any economic layout, Sanders’s plan is not without fault. Tax-based plans always depend on Congress, and currently, the congressional situation is not very dependable at all. However, the clear articulation of his goals, comprehensive and straightforward plan of action and continuing transparency with voters renders him the clear favorite for students looking to support a candidate in favor of solving the tuition crisis.
Lily Vaughan is a freshman majoring in history and political science. Her column, “Playing Politics,” runs Fridays.