Democrats And (Some) Republicans Agree: We Must Overhaul How We Pay For College

Contenders for the Democratic nomination Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both unveiled policies to help solve the problem of rapidly rising college costs. Though the plans differ in details, they agree in essentials: the Federal Government needs to roll up its pant legs and wade into the muck. Inside Higher Ed explains:

At the heart of both plans is a new federal-state matching program that would send billions of dollars to states and colleges with the goal of seeing tuition slashed or eliminated at public colleges and universities.

You will not, I think, be shocked to hear that it’s the more moderate Clinton who favors slashing tuition and the more radical Sanders who favors eliminating it. IHE has prepared a handy chart for side-by-side comparison purposes.

The Clinton Plan: Debt-Free Tuition at Public College The Sanders Plan: Tuition-Free Public College
States would receive federal money to eliminate the need of some students to borrow to pay for tuition. Students would have to work 10 hours a week to participate. And families who could afford to chip in — by some yet-to-be-determined metric — would be required to pay. States would receive money from the federal government to eliminate tuition at public colleges and universities. All students would be eligible, regardless of income.

So yeah, progressives, generally, agree that something drastic needs to be done and that the government has a responsibility to get involved. Some GOP candidates agree too. Libby Nelson at Vox reports that Clinton and one of her potential opponents, Marco Rubio, are on the same page about student loan payments.

The size of student loan payments should be tethered to how much people earn.

People with more money would make higher payments and pay off their loans more quickly. Those with less would make lower payments and pay longer, or eventually have the balance forgiven.

Income-based repayment is already an option in the United States — but Rubio and Clinton think it should be the default payment system. And that’s actually not that far-fetched: The United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand all use this approach.

This seems so obvious to me that I have a hard time understanding who would be against it or why. As a system, it is prudent and it also has a modicum of compassion.

Payments get higher if people earn more money, and if they never do, the payments stay low. People with student loans don’t ever pay back more than they borrowed to begin with, plus interest, though if payments are lower than they would be under a standard 10-year repayment plan, they will pay more interest.

Yay! Sounds great. What’s the problem, then? Bureaucracy.

people with student loans say that enrolling in income-based repayment can be glitchy and confusing. People have to verify their incomes annually or they’re kicked out of the program. Until recently, much of the enrollment process could only be done on paper.


As much as we’d like to believe we’re not living in Terry Gilliams’ terrifying cinematic dystopia Brazilsometimes the evidence all points one way.

All right, well, if politicians as disparate as Rubio and Clinton can 1) agree that there is a problem, and 2) agree on a potential solution, I have faith that someday — perhaps not in 2015, but SOMEDAY, perhaps before the turn of the next decade — we’ll be able to streamline crucial nationwide technological processes so that they don’t require #2 pencils.


This story is part of our College Month series. 



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