One fact that both parties can agree on is that college tuition has risen far more rapidly than inflation, leaving us with an unsustainable system that is selling today’s youth short. The matter of contention, of course, is how to fix the problem. While Republicans look to remove the government from the equation and privatize the student loan industry, Democrats take the opposite approach. The 2016 Democratic Platform called for “bold new investments by the federal government” to make “debt-free college a reality.” This includes not only providing free tuition to families that make under a certain dollar amount a year, but also providing government relief for those with “crushing student debt.” Democrats also believe in providing tax credits for student loan holders, and making loan repayment income-based.
Democratic President Barack Obama brought the government deeper into the student loan process. Democrats believe that by cutting out the middleman and having the federal government directly involved in student loans, they saved students a large sum of money in the long run. The 2012 Democratic Party Platform stated, “To help keep college within reach for every student, Democrats took on banks to reform our student loan program, saving more than $60 billion by removing the banks acting as middlemen so we can better and more directly invest in students. To make college affordable for students of all backgrounds and confront the loan burden our students shoulder, we doubled our investment in Pell Grant scholarships and created the American Opportunity Tax Credit worth up to $10,000 over four years of college.”
Relief for Current Student Loan Holders
Democratic Views on College Tuition include allowing all students who currently hold student loan debt to refinance their loans. This could lower interest rates and substantially decrease the cost to debt holders. Democrats also support decreasing interest rates in general for future students. They hope to expand access to income-based repayment plans, as well as allowing borrowers to discharge their student loan debts when they declare bankruptcy.
Free Tuition at the State Level
Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders fought hard for free tuition during the 2016 election. However, with the election of Donald Trump, this idea took a back seat to less government-heavy agendas. This left instituting free tuition, if it were to happen, a duty of the states. New York decided to be first in line, and implemented the country’s first comprehensive free tuition law.
Proposed by Gov. Cuomo in January, the ‘Excelsior Scholarship’ was passed into law by the New York state legislature on April 9th. Three days later, Hillary Clinton joined the New York governor for a bill signing ceremony. The stated goal of the program is to increase the opportunities available to middle and low income residents of New York state by providing “free tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities for in-state students from households earning up to $100,000.” While some sources are reporting that the income cap is set at $125,000, an increase to this number is slated for the future, but isn’t planned for implementation until 2019. While this plan allows for free tuition specifically, it does not provide for room, board, text books, etc.
Rhode Island followed shortly after New York, implementing a program that provided students the choice of two years of free community college or a tuition waiver for their last two years at a four-year institution.
While this plan greatly benefits students, it is a “last dollar” plan, meaning that the state will only pay out the remaining balance after a student has already claimed all other financial aid means available to them. This includes Pell Grants, which could be used for room, board, and supplies if not required to be paid out for tuition prior to the state covering the remaining balance. Therefore, one matter of great contention amongst Democrats as New York and Rhode Island prepared their plans was the fact that it was not as beneficial to students as the “first dollar” plans that Sanders and Clinton brought to the table at the federal level. “The difference between first-dollar and last-dollar is pretty big and fundamentally changes how progressive a plan is,” said Mark Huelsman, a senior policy analyst at the liberal think tank Demos. He stressed that non-tuition costs are “a big area of college affordability that students face—it’s a huge driver of the student-debt crisis.” Of course, at the state level, last-dollar was chosen as the financially plausible alternative. “From a state perspective, last-dollar makes all the sense in the world, because then you’re having the federal government pay a lot of the price,” Kelchen said. In New York, at least, “it’s just the only way they can make the numbers work,”
Free for Everyone?
One of the largest points of contention in proposing a free tuition plan is exactly who should be receiving free tuition. The problem with a $100,000 a year cap is that a family of three making $99,000 a year can get free tuition for their single child while a family of six making $101,000 a year can’t get it for their four children. Many Democrats wanted to keep the income limit between $100,000 and $125,000 so that wealthy children, who don’t need the money to attend school, were not utilizing these funds. However, a large problem often faced by financial aid programs is that the demographics that could benefit from them are either not informed or believe they are not eligible. Therefore, eliminating upper class or upper-middle class students from the group that benefits from the program greatly narrows the probability that students who do need the aid will know how to apply for it when the time comes. Targeting lower class families also causes more contention among the parties; Republicans are less likely to support programs that are welfare-based and seen as handouts to the poor. Extending the program to the middle class makes it more likely to positively benefit the economy in the long run, and therefore more likely to garner bipartisan support.
Hillary Clinton on Free Tuition
During her campaign for president, Hillary Clinton offered a 1,300 word document on her website detailing her proposal for college tuition plans. The plan included allowing students with a family income of less than $125,000 attending in-state public colleges for free by 2021, and allowing students with a family income of under $85,000 attend in-state public colleges for free as early as possible.
Hillary’s plan also included giving tuition breaks to students under a wide variety of circumstances if they fell above this income level, and student loan relief for many students who attended college before her policies are put into place. It also includes forgiving any student loan debt that has been outstanding for 20 years or more.
While many criticized Clinton, saying that free tuition isn’t really free, New Jersey Senator Corey Booker spoke out saying that Clinton was fully aware of what she was going after. “She knows that debt-free college is not a gift, it’s not charity” Booker said. “It’s an investment.”
- How Republicans and Democrats Plan to Attack Student Debt – USA Today College
- Why Are Democrats Fighting Over Free College? – New Republic
- Democratic Party on Education – On The Issues
- What You Need to Know About New York’s Free Tuition Law
- Democratic Views on Education
- Republican Views on School Vouchers
- Democratic Views on the Federal Budget
- Democratic Views on Poverty
- Libertarian Views on Education
- Republican Views on Education
- Differences Between Democrats and Republicans
- Democratic Views on The Economy
- Democratic Party Beliefs