Vermont Senator and democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has introduced a bill in the Senate to offer free college for all Americans.
It’s not completely absurd. He points out in a statement that there are countries, like Germany and Denmark, that offer free or heavily subsidized higher education. What’s more, a few states in the US, like California, founded their public universities on the premise of offering a free, high quality education to its citizens.
Here’s how Sanders’ plan would work. The federal government would increase taxes on Wall Street to pay for two thirds of the cost of college ($47 billion in fiscal year 2016); states would pay the rest. This is a plan similar to US president Barack Obama’s to offer free community college for all Americans by taxing the wealthy and financial institutions. The difference is that two-year undergraduate college students account for fewer than half of all US higher education students, while Sanders plan to subsidize all public colleges and universities covers about three out of four undergraduates. And even Obama’s plan, though it received plenty of attention when announced, hasn’t seen much action since.
Sanders has been vocal about the need for free higher education for a while, and at least in theory, it’s a good issue for a US senator to take on. Cynics might say that Sanders is only trying to get some favorable attention from young voters in his run for his party’s nomination for president against the very dominant frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
Either way, college affordability and debt have emerged as key issues in the run up to the 2016 US elections. College costs both create and perpetuate inequality, and student debt accounts for a large share of Americans’ debt.
Of course, Sanders’ bill doesn’t stand a chance of passage in a Republican-controlled Congress. But maybe that doesn’t matter, if all Sanders really wants is the opportunity to present himself as a bold and ambitious reformer on an issue that a lot of people are paying attention to.