Socialist Senator, Presidential Hopeful Proposes Free Higher Education

Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has introduced a bill into Congress that would subsidize tuition to public four-year colleges for American students. His plan would divide the financial burden — roughly $70 billion per year — between the federal government and state governments.

“We used to lead the world in the percentage of our people who graduated college. Today, we are in 12th place,” Sanders said. “We used to have great universities [that were] tuition-free. Today they are unaffordable. I want a more educated workforce. I want everybody to be able to get a higher education regardless of their income.”

Sanders is a self-described socialist, and his proposed bill, the College for All Act, borrows from European models of wealth redistribution. Countries like Germany, Denmark, and Sweden — where tax rates are higher than in the U.S. — offer free or inexpensive higher education to citizens.

The proposed bill calls for the government to provide $47 billion every year in grants and for the states to pay the remaining $23 billion. The plan includes a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street, charging a .5 percent speculation fee on investment houses, hedge funds, and other stock trades. Interest rates on student loans would be cut from 4.32 percent to 2.32 percent, and the bill would ensure that rates would never exceed 8.25 percent.

To be eligible for federal grants under the act, states would be required to maintain spending on academic instruction and need-based financial aid, as well as hire more tenured or tenure-track faculty. The money could not be used on administrator salaries, merit-based financial aid, or construction of non-academic buildings.

An estimated 7 million people are in default on their student loans, averaging a debt load of more than $28,000 per person. In addition, the unemployment rate for Americans aged 20 to 24 is 9.6 percent, and 44.6 percent of recent graduates are working in jobs that do not require a college degree.


*This story was rewritten from an article published online by Mic on May 19, 2015.