Vermont Senator and 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders just introduced a bill that would make college tuition free at all public American universities.
"We live in a highly competitive global economy and, if our economy is to be strong, we need the best-educated workforce in the world,” Sanders said in a statement on Sunday. “That will not happen if, every year, hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, and if millions more leave school deeply in debt.”
The plan is modeled after European countries like Germany, which made headlines last year when it got rid of all tuition fees for its public colleges -- even for international students.
"Countries like Germany, Denmark, Sweden and many more are providing free or inexpensive higher education for their young people," Sanders explained. "They understand how important it is to be investing in their youth. We should be doing the same."
He went on to say, "We used to lead the world in the percentage of our people who graduated college. Today we are in 12th place. We used to have great universities tuition-free. Today they are unaffordable. I want a more educated workforce. I want everybody to be able to get a higher education regardless of their income.”
Writer Libby Nelson at Vox pointed out that the bill has some major hurdles to jump in order to pass. “Private colleges are a powerful lobbying contingent on Capitol Hill,” she wrote. “In part because they're ubiquitous — just about every congressional district has a college in it — and in part because they're well-organized. They'd naturally oppose any attempt to cut off their students' grants and preferable loan terms.”
There’s also the not-so-small question of how the tuition would be funded if students aren't paying. Writer Jordan Weissman wrote an article for The Atlantic in 2013 called “How Washington Could Make College Tuition Free (Without Spending a Penny More on Education).” The idea is that instead of giving grants and loans to individuals, the government could just give the same amount of money directly to public universities. The subtitle sums it up: “Washington already spends enough on student aid to cover tuition for each and every public college student in America. Maybe it's time to give that a try?”
It seems unlikely that the bill will pass, but if this crazy scheme works, Bernie Sanders might just have a real shot at the presidency.
Sanders' tuition bill includes additional measures that would dramatically lower both student debt and interest rates on college loans. As of June of 2014, student loan debt in the U.S. had reached over $1.1 trillion, and 37 million of us have some amount of student loan debt. That makes people suffering from student loan debt (and their co-signing parents and grandparents), a substantial voting bloc.
For now we can only keep our fingers crossed.