Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has unveiled an ambitious plan that she says will give every American the ability to attend college debt-free. Clinton’s plan has an estimated cost of $350 billion over 10 years and will essentially work by trying to exert federal pressure on states.
States would receive $175 billion in new grants from the federal government. In return, states would be expected to direct more funding toward public colleges and to implement measures to slow the growth of tuition. By giving public colleges substantially more money, Clinton hopes the schools will opt to keep tuition under control and to offer loan-free aid for any student unable to entirely cover tuition on their own.
Notably, though, Clinton’s plan doesn’t include any provisions for capping the growth of tuition rates, one of the key drivers of college affordability.
In addition to her four-year college plan, Clinton is also adopting President Barack Obama’s proposal for making two-year public community colleges completely tuition-free. Clinton’s plan has many more details aside from just trying to fiddle with tuition. Other reforms she’s pushing include:
-Allowing Pell Grants to apply entirely toward living expenses rather than school tuition
-Letting current holders of student loans refinance at lower interest rates, effectively reducing how much they will be expected to pay over the lifetime of the laon.
-Expanding the size of the AmeriCorps service program, which offers education benefits for participants. Clinton would grow the program from 80,000 members to as many as 200,000
-Punishing private colleges that have too many graduates struggle to pay off loans.
Clinton plans to pay for her program through raising taxes on high earners by capping the amount they are allowed to claim in itemized deductions each year. The tax increase would boost federal revenues by an estimated $600 billion over the next decade, giving Hillary enough to fund her program and then some.
But since Clinton’s proposal would require the collaboration of both Congress and the fifty states, it’s unclear how feasible it is. Congressional Republicans are unlikely to sign off on a major tax increase, while Clinton’s efforts to brings states along could run into the same roadblocks Obama encountered when he tried to have states expand Medicaid coverage.
Still, Hillary’s plan allows her to cover her left flank in a Democratic race where college affordability has become a huge talking point. Martin O’Malley has already unveiled his own debt-free college plan, while Bernie Sanders has gone even further and pledged to spend about $70 billion a year in federal and state funding to make all public four-year colleges completely tuition-free, similar to the systems currently used in some European countries like Germany.
Without skipping a beat, Republican presidential candidates have lined up to criticize Clinton’s plan for its cost.
“We don’t need more top-down Washington solutions that will raise the cost of college even further and shift the burden to hardworking taxpayers,” Jeb Bush said in a statement sent to the Tampa Bay Times. “We need to change the incentives for colleges with fresh policies that result in more individualization and choices, drive down overall costs, and improve the value of a college degree, which will help lead to real, sustained four-percent economic growth.”
Senator Marco Rubio similarly criticized the plan for funneling money to traditional centers of higher education rather than focusing on the potential of online education, skill certificates and other alternatives to traditional college programs.
Republicans haven’t ignored the issue of college costs, though. Rubio has produced his own plan for reducing student loans, which includes promoting programs where students would have their education paid for in return for a set percentage of their future earnings. Fellow candidate Scott Walker fought rising prices in Wisconsin by imposing a tuition freeze on the University of Wisconsin.
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