The Case for Combining Tuition-Free College with Debt Relief
This week, Bernie Sanders launched his campaign to annihilate all $1.6 trillion in student debt. This far exceeds the amount Elizabeth Warren promises to alleviate ($640 billion). Warren pledges to eliminate up to $50,000 in debts for those making less than $100,000 per year. Those who owe more than $50,000 would still have to pay the remaining balance, and those earning more than $100,000 would receive smaller reductions. By contrast, Sanders vows to eliminate all outstanding debt. Sanders also promises to use federal money to make public colleges and universities tuition-free. Warren’s policy on tuition relies on state governments to provide a large percentage of the funding, and that means that Republican governors and state legislators would be able to refuse to participate, in much the same way that they refused to participate in Barack Obama’s Medicaid expansion. This would create a two-tier system, in which Americans living in blue states would enjoy educational rights denied to Americans living in red states. The Sanders plan is the only plan predicated on the principle that further education ought to be a universal right of all Americans, regardless of where they live or how much money they earn.
But there are those who resist the Sanders plan, arguing that cancelling student debt and providing tuition-free college subsidises economically inefficient behaviour and rewards people who made mistakes. Others argue that debt relief is regressive, because college-educated Americans tend to be higher income than those who did not go to college. I think both of these arguments are wrong. Here’s why.