The College Affordability Crisis Is Attracting The Attention Of Democratic Presidential Candidates

Millennials owe $1 trillion in student loan debt.

By Jill Ament & Laura RiceMarch 4, 2019 11:43 am, ,

College has become a prerequisite for most high-paying jobs in the U.S., but college itself is out of reach for millions, and that number is growing. And the New York Federal Reserve says that in the past 10 years, student loan debt has grown by more than 100 percent; people ages 19 to 29 hold more than $1 trillion in student debt – and that’s just the millennial generation. With a wide-open Democratic primary field, it’s almost certain that college affordability will be an issue during the 2020 presidential campaign.

Adam Harris writes in The Atlantic that the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates have focused their attention on how to make college affordable in the future,  proposing free college tuition or policies that would allow students to leave school without debt.

Harris says that prior to the 2016 election, momentum had been building nationally for some sort of free college program. But once Donald Trump was elected president, that momentum shifted to the states.

“There are about 20 or so states right now that have free college, or college promise plans that tend to cover community college,” Harris says.

In Tennessee, for example, recent high school graduates and adults wishing to return to school can receive free community college tuition.

Harris says that In 2016, candidate Bernie Sanders advocated free college, even forcing Hillary Clinton to the left on the issue. Sanders is running again in 2020. California Sen. Kamala Harris is also advocating for debt-free college policies as part of her presidential campaign. In addition to tuition, debt-free college plans often cover costs like books and room and board.

“Typically, advocates suggest that debt-free college policies are the more progressive of the policies,” Harris says.

A proposal by Democrat Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii would provide one-to-one federal matching for state-sponsored college assistance programs, which would allow those state programs to go further toward fully funding college. Some presidential candidates have also signed on to that approach, Harris says.

“One of the things that free college rests on is not only Democrats winning the presidency but also potentially winning the Senate,” Harris says.

Republican opposition to free college programs rests on the philosophy of federalism, which concentrates more power at the state and local level, rather than in Washington, Harris says. He also points out that Tennessee, which has a free college program, is a Republican-majority state.

“The reason why they’re able to do that is that it’s a state issue, and it’s making an economic argument for the state,” Harris says.

Written by Shelly Brisbin.