In a major campaign move with powerful implications for higher education, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton offered a new plan for college and university finance. According to Inside Higher Ed, this includes several major proposals.
- Tuition at public colleges and universities would be free for students whose families make less than $85,000 per year. That threshold will gradually increase, to reach $125,000 in 2021. According to the campaign web site today,
by 2021, families with income up to $125,000 will pay no tuition at in-state four-year public colleges and universities—covering more than 80 percent of all families. And from the start of the plan, every student from a family making $85,000 a year or less will be able to go to an in-state four-year public college or university without paying tuition. Students at community college will also pay no tuition.
- Pell Grants would be available during summer terms, rather than just the normal fall and spring school year.
- A three-month moratorium on debt repayment to let borrowers (re)negotiate terms. I can’t tell if this is for all borrowers, and, if so, when it would start, or if it only applies to new graduates.
It’s an ambitious plan with high aims, according to this statement:
It is imperative that the next president put forward a bold plan to make debt-free college available to all. My New College Compact will do just that — by making sure that working families can send a child or loved one to college tuition-free and by giving student debt-holders immediate relief.
Some first thoughts as reactions ripple across various media domains:
- This is another sign of the Sanders campaign driving Clinton to the left. While these proposals are not as ambitious as Bernie’s, they are definitely more expansive than those Clinton issued earlier in this campaign. The political calculus is clear, an attempt by the Clinton campaign to win over younger (under 45 years old) votes previously supporting Sanders. One nice detail from IHE: “[a] Clinton campaign official said that the plan came out of Clinton’s recent meeting with Sanders…” Sanders then tweeted support of the plan: “I applaud @HillaryClinton for the very bold initiative she has just brought forth for the financing of higher education.”
- Who pays for this new academic financial order? It looks like a mix of state and federal funding, which seems consistent with earlier Clinton plans. According to the campaign site, Washington takes the lead. “The federal government will make a major investment in the New College Compact by providing grants to states that commit to these goals, and by cutting interest rates on loans.” I can’t find amounts for those grants, nor a political plan for getting them through Congress and into a budget. Last year Clinton’s smaller plan spoke of $350 billion.
- The states must also buy in, and here I’m very skeptical: “States will have to step up and meet their obligation to invest in higher education by maintaining current levels of higher education funding and reinvesting over time.” I can’t find figures or political plans on how this would transpire. Many American state governments are already in some form of cost-cutting or austerity mode. Demographic pressures (i.e., aging) are driving up state spending on Medicare and Medicaid; additionally, worries about crime are’t exactly going to let state legislators cut monies aimed at prisons and police. Could we see a red versus blue Affordable Care Act implementation, with the wealthier and bluer states buying in, while the others make political hay out of resisting?
- The Clinton proposals still insist on getting academia to be more efficient. “Colleges and universities will be accountable for improving outcomes and controlling costs to ensure that tuition is affordable and that students who invest in college leave with a degree.” I’m not clear how this would happen, since the United States Department of Education has little clout here. The Obama administration has pressured academia hard and continually to reform, even fiercely, without much impact; would a president Clinton continue this approach, or offer some new tack?
- The proposal addresses public campuses, but only those in the same state as a student’s residence. Note the key language here:
Hillary heard you: College costs are too high in America. It’s time to fix it.
Hillary will eliminate college tuition for families making up to $125,000 at in-state public colleges and universities.
Today most state campuses openly recruit students from other states, precisely to benefit from higher out-of-state tuition. Will campuses receive state and/or local and/or federal funding at that level, or only at in-state amounts? Will state legislatures support this as a way of compelling their campuses to teach their population?
- The income threshold is consistent with earlier criticism of Sanders’ broader plan from the Clinton campaign and others. It keeps taxpayers from funding wealthier students’ college bills.
- What happens to other costs? It would make all kinds of sense for campuses to hike non-tuition fees, for example. Will a Clinton administration push for open education in order to reduce textbook costs – indeed, will her campaign raise this to win over young and/or techie voters?
What do you make of the Clinton proposals?