College Affordability is so unavailable to working class Americans that they often resort to entering sweepstakes to pay for it.
When I came in from walking my dog last night, I glanced at my TV and saw something truly remarkable. It was halftime for the Pac-12 Conference Championship Game, and two students were competing in the Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway. To summarize, two college students were throwing footballs into giant Dr. Pepper soda cans, and whoever got the most before time ran out got a $100,000 check for their college tuition. One can only imagine how frantically the participants were trying to miraculously turn into Tom Brady for the 30 seconds of the competition. This made me think of our society at-large. How can a college education become more and more of a necessity to secure basic employment while its cost soars? College has somehow become both overrated and underrated in our society. Underrated by employers based on how much they typically pay recent college grads; overrated by institutions because the degrees they give their students do not grant them the security that it should based on its sky high cost. This is a societal issue; as such, the 2020 Presidential field has spent much time outlining their policies on how to address it. However, the candidates have vastly different plans of action for addressing the Student debt crisis.
It’s most appropriate to start with Pete Buttigieg’s plan for college affordability being that the ad directly above has been the cause of plenty discussion lately. Buttigieg cites tuition free public college as being a bad idea because it would, “make college free for the children of millionaires”. This is a pathetic point to make, seeing as millionaires make up less than 6% of all Americans, and that’s according to net worth not annual income. Pete is essentially arguing that 94% of the population should lose out on free college because 6% of people would benefit from it who don’t really need it. It’s also worth noting that the vast majority of students from wealthy families attend private colleges, so public colleges being free for them would effect even fewer wealthy families than Buttigieg is insinuating. However, his argument is even more shaky under a microscope. According to his own college affordability plan, he only wants to offer free college to students coming from families that make $100,000 a year or less. This policy would simply perpetuate the coverage gap that already exists. Middle class families find themselves in a state of purgatory. Too “rich” to qualify for need based financial aid; not rich enough to cover the outrageous costs of higher education in America. Other Democrats, namely Bernie Sanders and his campaign surrogate Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), also had hard critiques of Buttigieg’s bad faith attack on the idea of free public college.
The Progressives of the Democratic Party had qualms with Mayor Pete’s rhetoric and they made it known. Mayor Pete offered a counter argument but unfortunately this was in even worse faith than the original claim:
This response from Pete Buttigieg in a vacuum is not a terrible take. The Mayor is correct, not everyone goes to college. However, it is when inspecting this argument further that red flags are raised. Most students that avoid college do so because they can’t afford it. Furthermore, many jobs that don’t require a college degree do require a trade school certification. Buttigieg alludes to this in his response, yet Pete’s own plan doesn’t cover trade schools while Bernie’s plan, the same plan that he attacked, does. Buttigieg’s plan also states that nearly 40 percent of college enrollees drop out of school. Over half of these students drop out due to cost, and yet and still Mr. Buttigieg won’t back free public college for all. I can only find one term to describe Mayor Pete’s flimsy argument against free college for all, “mental gymnastics”.
I know some of you might be thinking, “free college for everybody would never pass Congress, so we must take a smaller step so that it will pass”. This is the common approach not just on Capitol Hill but also in mainstream media circles. It is also wrong. When the general public sees a “free-for-some” plan, many of them immediately think, “will this benefit me directly?” In the event that it doesn’t benefit or aid them, they immediately lose enthusiasm for it and for good reason. It’s hard to be fully invested in something that won’t improve your own life. However, when a policy proposal is universal this isn’t an issue. Universal policies help everyone. How many more people, of all ages, would consider attending college and getting that degree they were passionate about, but didn’t think they could make a decent living off of? How many single parents would be liberated by not having to worry about a tuition payment while also caring for their children? How many teachers would pursue the highest degree in their field if they didn’t have to be saddled with even more student loans to do so? We have no idea, but it is sure to be substantial. This leads us to the outrageous amount of student debt that exists in this country.
Presidential Candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren not only want to make public colleges tuition free, but they also want to engage in student debt forgiveness. Sanders wants to forgive it all without any limits or means testing, and Warren wants to forgive up to $50,000 per borrower. Their reasoning behind it is because it will serve as a monumental economic stimulus. No longer would working class Americans have huge chunks of their incomes barred from entering the economic market. 45 Million Americans would now have disposable income, and would contribute trillions more dollars in the local and international economies. These stances are often viewed as radical; however, in other countries students not only do students NOT have to pay for college they are paid for attending college. This is based in the notion that college students are doing society good by educating themselves. A higher educated citizenry creates a higher quality society. America is the richest country on earth; there are no excuses that we cannot afford things like this that help our citizens. We spend more money on our military than the next 9 highest countries combined, we give rich people tax breaks worth billions of dollars, and not only that; we also allow multi billionaires to evade taxes. In essence, the money exists for us to create a more equitable country, we just lack the political will to prioritize it.
In short, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and AOC see free public college as an investment in their constituency. Contrary to what the Mainstream Democratic Party Establishment apparatus believes, this is not a radical view. Many European countries pay their citizens to get higher education while all Sanders and co. want is to make it free. As an individual that dropped out of college because of cost and the scarcity of good paying jobs, this issue affects me directly. There were many nights I cried myself to sleep because I didn’t have the money for tuition and many more nights I toiled over the possibility of never going back to school because of the cost barrier. Many college grads can’t buy homes or start families because of student loans, and many of their parents have to take on second and third jobs or even push back retirement to help their adult children pay for school. This is disheartening because the whole point of going to college was to gain enough stability to do those things. These are all reasons why many Millennials, Gen-Xers, and Gen-Zers view this economy as a rigged system. Unfortunately, Dr. Pepper wants to do more to help young people pay for college than Mayor Pete Buttigieg does.