NPR - All Things Considered
July 27, 2016
July 27, 2016
At the Democratic National Convention this week, Bernie Sanders announced that his successful rival, Hillary Clinton, had adopted one of his most popular proposals: Free tuition at public colleges.
"During the primary campaign, Secretary Clinton and I both focused on this issue but with different approaches," the Vermont Senator noted. "Recently, however, we have come together on a proposal that will revolutionize higher education in America. It will guarantee that the children of any family [in] this country with an annual income of $125,000 a year or less – 83 percent of our population – will be able to go to a public college or university tuition free. That proposal also substantially reduces student debt."
This proposal is novel. It's dramatic. It's a broadly scaled entitlement program for the middle class directed not at older Americans, like Social Security and Medicare, but for once, at younger Americans.
So let's unpack this idea a little bit.
First of all, what would it cost?
In fiscal year 2014, the most recent year available, four-year public institutions collected $58 billion in tuition. Since 2011, they've collected more in tuition and fees than from all state sources combined.
Currently, the federal government spends $31 billion on federal grants and work-study to all institutions, not just four-year public schools. So the cost of eliminating tuition would be around double that (maybe less, since some of that grant money already goes to tuition).