New candidate proposes free tuition

By Joe Matthews, Contributing Writer

The newly proclaimed progressive candidate for the U.S. Presidency, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, has presented a new legislation that will give students from lower-middle class families free tuition to any public college or university in the country.

“It is a national disgrace that hundreds of thousands of young Americans today do not go to college, not because they are unqualified, but because they cannot afford it,” he told reporter Daniel Doherty of Town Hall News on May 19. “This is absolutely counterproductive to our efforts to create a strong, competitive economy and a vibrant middle class. This disgrace has got to end.”

Sander’s proposed College for All Act will provide free tuition to every four-year public college and university in the United States. With this bill, Sanders’ focus is to make sure any student, regardless of his or her background or income, will be able to get the education they need and deserve.

“Though I don’t think the bill will pass, I think that everyone deserves a right to higher education,” said EWU junior Jared Hopkins. “The only thing I can think of as a downfall to the bill is that it might decrease the value of a bachelor’s degree. If everyone is getting them, it will force me to get a master’s in my field to compete and I am not sure that I could afford to spend two more years in school.”

If this bill actually passes, the U.S. would be among several other countries that provide free higher education such as Sweden, Norway, Germany and Brazil.

“I don’t think that paying for school is a big deal, though I do wish it were cheaper,” said EWU sophomore Taylor Donohue. “What I do think is crazy, however, is that other countries aren’t just providing free tuition, they are paying their students to attend.”

One problem Sanders may have is getting the bill through the Republican-controlled Congress. To tax Wall Street, the bill would enforce a 0.5 percent tax on stock trades — that is 50 cents for every $100 worth of stock — a 0.1 percent fee on bonds and a 0.005 percent fee on derivatives trading. Sanders said that two-thirds of the money needed will come straight from the new taxes, while each individual state will have to pay the rest.

Sanders’ plan may have a difficult time getting through Congress, but it is a good start to his campaign if he is trying to differentiate himself from other candidates. Hillary Clinton has not given any plans on the topic of lowering tuition costs even though she mentioned it was a focus of hers.

EWU Director of Government Relations David Buri said, “It is exciting to see this proposal on a national narrative. It gets to the heart in understanding how important a college degree can be for underprivileged families.” However, he also cautions to not get too excited because the bill has a long way to go before it becomes an actual law. “I agree with the principle [of the law], but it’s difficult to build the backbone we need for it.”

This plan may end up being a primary focus of upcoming presidential debates. Though the bill may have little chance of passing, it is a good icebreaker for other candidates to get their foot in the door on the subject of higher education costs. Sanders’ plan may be bold, but if it helps get the conversation started, the days of free higher education might not be too far away.