Elizabeth Warren Proposes Plan for Debt-Free College

Policy
Posted By Eliana Osborn on June 16, 2015 at 3:00 pm
Elizabeth Warren Proposes Plan for Debt-Free College

Continuing her push for affordability in higher education, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-NY) recently proposed a series of dramatic reforms to college tuition and student loans. Speaking to the American Federation of Teachers, Warren’s ideas included changing bankruptcy law so that student loans can be vacated under such proceedings.

The speech follows an April resolution by several Democrats to have at least some public institutions available to students without requiring them to take on debt.  In her speech, Warren summarized the major issues involved, and why it is so imperative that changes be made to higher education funding:

“Public colleges are the backbone of our higher education system. More than three-quarters of college students in the U.S. are enrolled in a public college.9 But costs are out of sight, primarily because states have failed to invest. In the last 25 years, average state funding per student dropped 24%.10 In some states, the drop has been even sharper.11 That leaves families to borrow more money to make up the difference.” (ibid—first link)

As state funding decreases, federal funding is unable to keep up.  Pell grants, created to allow low-income students access to college, now only cover one-third of the cost of public universities, compared to 75% of that same expense in the past.

The three elements of a debt-free college option, as outlined by Warren, include the following:

  • Rewards for colleges who get students through bachelor’s degree programs in four years.
  • Oversight and requirements for how much federal money colleges can spend on things like administrators and marketing.
  • Fines for colleges with high proportions of students who default on their loans.

Overall, the goal is to make institutions of higher education more accountable for their finances.  Decisions that impact student learning and earning opportunities will affect the colleges’ bottom line – both positively and negatively.  Without such responsibility, many worry that inflated and increasing tuition costs will continue with no end in sight.

Other ideas mentioned by Warren include the end of funding cuts by states for higher education, as well as a change to how federal student loans work.  At present, they are a money making venture; Warren believes it should be a non-profit program instead.  By drawing continued attention to America’s college funding crisis, Warren is moving the debate forward out of the halls of academia and into more broad-stream awareness.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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