Fri, Aug 14, 2015 - Page 9 News List

Clinton takes debt-free higher education from progressive dream to mainstream

Activists are calling the so-called ‘college compact’ ambitious, but families would still have to cover some costs, unlike US Senator Bernie Sanders’ proposal

By Lauren Gambino and Jana Kasperkevic  /  The Guardian, EXETER, NEW HAMPSHIRE and NEW YORK

Illustration: Mountain People

Potential Democratic US presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday unveiled her response to the US$1.3 trillion student loan crisis with a plan to make university tuition affordable enough that young people might someday be able to attend it debt free.

Although Clinton’s college spending targets are not as far reaching as her Democratic presidential opponents, with one group calling them “bait” for liberal voters, her plan has already received endorsements from progressive activists that pushed the formerly fringe ambition of zero-debt higher education to the forefront of her mainstream campaign.

Her proposal, which is estimated to cost about US$350 billion over 10 years, would provide grants to US states that make their public four-year university and college courses affordable enough so that students do not have to take out loans to attend. The plan also includes refinancing options for students already saddled with massive debt.

The so-called “college compact” also includes about US$175 billion in grants that would go to states that ensure students can afford public four-year university and college courses without taking out loans. States would have to stop divesting — during the recession many states reduced their spending on higher education — and increase spending on higher education.

Clinton is expected to formally introduce the plan during a campaign event in New Hampshire, where students paid an average of US$14,712 in tuition and fees — the highest in the US — to attend in-state universities there last year and this year, according to the US College Board.

The former secretary of state had been leading a campaign focused heavily on personal contact with potential voters, many of them students and families concerned with the high costs of education. In addition to hearing from US citizens who would be impacted directly, Clinton’s team has consulted widely on student debt, including the staff for the progressive US Senator Elizabeth Warren.

“There’s something wrong when students and their families have to go deeply into debt to be able to get the education and skills they need in order to make the best of their own lives,” Clinton told an audience at an Iowa community college in April.

However, in the months since, progressive outsiders have successfully pushed, or at least nudged, Clinton to the left.

Many groups had expressed hopes that Clinton would roll out a proposal for full-on debt-free college — not just tuition — such as the sweeping plans already proposed by US Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley.

Clinton’s plan still expects families to cover part of their tuition costs through savings or loans. Under her plan, military veterans, lower-income students and 250,000 members of programs like AmeriCorps would attend college tuition-free.

Other parents would still have to cover part of the costs for their children’s schooling.

Even though it did not go as far as they hoped, leading debt-free groups lauded Clinton’s detailed proposal as a groundswell for an issue long ignored by the Washington mainstream.

“Hillary Clinton’s plan is very big and ambitious — leading to debt-free college and increased economic opportunity for millions of Americans,” Progressive Change Campaign Committee cofounder Adam Green said.

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