Bernie Sanders wants to make public colleges tuition free. Plenty of people think that's wacko left. They ask where he plans to get the money to pay for it. But then along comes Senator Warren with a more expensive bill that would make public college debt-free for everyone. Both bills would mark a sharp turn away from debt as the main way to pay for college.
Sanders' bill focuses only on tuition. According to his plan, the government would offer to pay states two thirds of the tuition cost charged by public institutions with the states coming up with the rest. Tuition usually covers half of college costs so Sanders assumes grants and loans will pay the rest. But he doesn't leave loans alone. His plan would cut the interest rates on loans severely.
Warren's bill is the more popular one. Twenty Democrats senators have already signed on. As in the Sanders bill, large federal subsidies would flow to the states. It would be a hundred percent subsidy to pay for all college costs otherwise uncovered to ensure no one has to borrow.
The bills' cost cutting measures to curtail college expenses don't make a lot of sense. Sanders, for example, leaves it up to the public universities to determine costs giving them an incentive to cheat by padding educational costs knowing that the government will cover them. In fact the bill actually helps colleges raise costs by making it mandatory that no less than 75 percent of professors be tenured, compared to 25 percent today.
All of this puts private colleges out in the cold. They would be in an unfair fight against heavily subsidized public institutions. Under these rules many privates could close. Our private schools are sacred to their alumni and essential to the economic well-being of our nation.
Americans pretty much want to keep our system of higher education in tact. They just don't want to pay so much for it individually or as taxpayers. Just about everyone, including university officials, recognize that college costs are a problem. Don't expect the bills of Sanders and Warren offering broad change to succeed. Rather, Washington will patch up the system, making financial aid more and more complicated for as long as it can.