Reprinted from Campaign For America's Future
The differences between the college financing plans offered by Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are important -- both for their impact on the middle class, and for what they tell us about the candidates and their governing philosophies.
Elementary and high school education is correctly seen as the bridge to a better future for young people. It is offered to all, at no cost, because we understand that society does better when the individuals within it do better.
When we made elementary school and high school free in the 1800s, the United States was a largely agrarian nation. The benefits a high school diploma provided back then -- higher income, career opportunity and the ability to fully participate in our democracy -- often require a higher level of education in today's world. Will we provide them in the same democratic and progressive way our forebears did?
We know that our current system is broken. It has left more than 41 million Americans owing more than $1.3 trillion in student debt. That burden is holding back an entire generation of Americans and is harming the economy as a whole.
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have had fundamentally different responses to this crisis. While those differences have been papered over by some in the media, as well as some progressive groups, they are real -- and they are significant.
The Sanders plan provides tuition-free public higher education to every qualified student. The Clinton plan does not.
The Sanders plan treats higher education the same way we have treated other forms of education in the past: Every young person who studies hard and succeeds in school should be able to get the education they need. By contrast, the Clinton plan charges tuition to middle-class students, using an as-yet unspecified formula based on a family's income.
The Clinton approach is unnecessarily complicated.
The Clinton plan is unnecessarily complicated and difficult to administer. It leaves a number of key questions open to manipulation by future politicians, such as: What are the thresholds for paying part of the tuition? What's a reasonable percent of family income to pay into the program?
Compare that to the simplicity and safety of a program like Social Security, which is run at very low administrative cost. If you qualify for its benefits, you receive them. We don't "means test" Social Security -- and we shouldn't. We shouldn't do it for a public higher education, either.
The Clinton plan holds political risk.
The principles behind the Clinton plan seem closer to some of the Republican candidates' ideas than they do to those of great Democratic presidents like Franklin D. Roosevelt. Candidate Chris Christie, for example, wants to cut Social Security benefits for Americans earning more than $80,000.
Another conservative group, the Concord Coalition, proposed that Social Security benefits be cut for any family whose annual income exceeds $40,000 per year -- and that includes both Social Security benefits and the cash value of their Medicare protection!
That's the problem with ideas like these. Once the door is open, there's always the possibility that politicians will use them to shift costs to the middle class.
The Clinton plan also requires middle-class students to work as well as study, something their wealthier peers won't be required to do.