Even “Donald Trump’s Grandchildren” Eligible for Tuition-Free College, Says Bernie Sanders

Election 2016
Posted By Derek Johnson on March 10, 2016 at 3:04 pm
Even “Donald Trump’s Grandchildren” Eligible for Tuition-Free College, Says Bernie Sanders
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt and Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, during the Univision, Washington Post Democratic presidential debate at Miami-Dade College, Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

At a contentious Univision/Washington Post debate that focused heavily on immigration and Latino-American issues, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said that his tuition-free college proposal would be eligible to all Americans, regardless of their income levels.

While discussing who would be eligible for the program, moderator and Univision host Jorge Ramos pressed Sanders on whether students from high-income families would get the same benefits as those coming from poorer backgrounds.

“[M]y questions was if you think, for instance, if Donald Trump’s grandchildren or [Hillary Clinton’s] grandchildren, should they be able to go for free?” asked Ramos.

“Absolutely,” replied Sanders. “[A]ll of our people, in my view, regardless of income, should have a right to get a higher education…I want every kid to know if you do your school work, study hard, yes, you will be able to get a college education.”

Sanders echoes Ron Unz and Ralph Nader’s appeals for free Harvard

The debate about whether high-income families should get access to the sort of “tuition-free” or “debt-free” college proposals designed for lower and middle-class families is playing out across the country this election cycle. Recently, a group of Harvard alumni headlined by conservative writer Ron Unz and consumer advocate and former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader have called for eliminating tuition at their alma mater.

The group is running for the Harvard Board of Overseers in May. Unz has argued that the size of Harvard’s endowments (more than $37 billion) and other financial investments make charging a quarter of a million dollars for four years of tuition wholly unnecessary.

“The announcement of a free Harvard education would capture the world’s imagination and draw a vastly broader and more diverse applicant pool, including many high-ability students who had previously limited their aim to their local state college,” wrote Unz in The New York Times. “Furthermore, everything I’ve said about Harvard applies equally well to most of America’s other top universities…They could just as easily provide free college educations to their students at little financial cost and great social benefit.”

Tuition-free college is not free college for all

Before the exchange about Trump and Clinton’s grandchildren, Ramos and Sanders had an exchange that highlighted some of the misconceptions about Sanders’ tuition-free college plan. “No, I do not propose free college tuition, I proposed free tuition at public colleges and universities,” said Sanders.

“So under your plan, potentially, millions of students who can not truly afford college would be getting federal subsidies, is that right?” asked Ramos. “No,” Sanders responded, before jumping into his usual stump speech on the need to treat subsidies for college the same as we treat K-12.

Sanders’ plan does not provide subsidies to individual students, as Ramos suggested, but rather funnels hundreds of billions of dollars to states and universities in order to effectively reduce the price of tuition to zero.

In the media, Sanders’ proposal has sometimes been described as “free college for all” or simply “free college.” This characterization often ignores the fact that millions of Americans attend private or for-profit schools that would not qualify for subsidies under Sanders’ plan. Even if every private college student opted for a tuition-free public university, it’s not clear whether there would be space or faculty to meet the demand.

In addition, just 65.9 percent of high school graduates in 2014 opted to go to college, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some argue that tuition-free college could cause a rush of enrollment among that remaining 34.1 percent that would only put further strain on a public college system that already serves approximately three out of every four college students.

Some public universities could become more selective as a result while less selective schools like community colleges could face strains on their resources in the face of higher enrollment. These and a range of other potential consequences of tuition-free college are yet to be addressed in detail in the presidential debates on higher education.

For more political coverage, see our special Election 2016 section.

Derek Johnson
Derek Johnson is a writer, journalist and editor based out of Virginia. He received a Master’s degree in Public Policy at George Mason University and a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University.

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