The Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has proposed the “College for All Act” whose main aim is to eliminate tuition fees for undergraduate students in public institutions. According to Sanders, the need for a qualified workforce in the highly competitive economy demands that college education must be made accessible to all. He argues that it is counterproductive to have institutions charge high tuition fees, thereby locking thousands of young people out of college. Also, he argues that the millions who leave school are burdened with a debt they have to pay for many years. It is his dream that everyone who goes through high school gets the chance to study in college. He wants young people to pursue a college education regardless of the amount of money their parents make. According to Sanders, it will be the responsibility of the federal government to pay for the tuition fees through a new federal tax to be imposed on financial transactions such as the stock and bond trades. This proposal has generated a debate in the public domain on whether it is beneficial or harmful to the economy and the country as a whole.
The proposal by Bernie Sanders has several benefits and drawbacks as well. One of the major benefits is that offering free college will allow the government to have maximum control on colleges and their operations. As noted in the article by Noah Halff (2015), the government will be in a position to control how these colleges function, thereby ensuring the effective and smooth running of these institutions. For example, colleges will be required to reduce the number of adjunct professors they hire. Supporters of this proposal believe that providing aid to colleges directly gives the government a perfect opportunity to get involved directly in the operations of colleges. This will help improve on issues such as the quality of education offered, costs and the courses available to students. Although this might sound advantageous, it is likely that such controls will not help improve college education after all. For example, in the article by Kevin James (2015), the author notes that government control only helps to make the running of colleges rigid, full of bureaucratic processes. If decisions about the running of a college have to be made by the federal government, it is likely that it will take a long time before they are implemented. In addition, the government cannot effectively control these institutions because it does not fully understand the challenges faced by these individual colleges. Given that the needs of students are changing, it requires that colleges respond to these changes quickly. Government control will not help in speeding up such processes.
Sanders’ proposal targets students by promising to reduce the financial burden most students are encountering at the moment, and also reduce the loan interest rates for students. According to this candidate’s website, berniesanders.com (2016), this program will ensure that the formula used in setting the loan interest rates for students would go down from 4.29% to 2.37%. This will be a major boost for students who are currently burdened by heavy debts after college. In the end, this program will help make the people of America richer and be highly competitive in the world economy. He further adds that this program will help students meet all their financial needs while in college. The financial aid from the federal and state governments will help students from low-income families to have money to pay for their accommodation, books and other living expenses (berniesanders.com, 2016). Sanders promises to increase the federal work study programs that will help students get financial assistance and get the necessary experience that will be useful after graduation. The major drawback of this is that the cost that the federal and state governments will incur in funding this program is very high. In an article by Charles Lane (2015), it is argued that although the plan aims at helping students from poor families, the program will be a burden to the economy in the long run. As more students flood the system, the government will be required to increase the funding to these institutions. The tax burden associated with this program will significantly hurt the American economy.
Opponents of the Sanders proposal have raised several concerns. First, it is feared that this proposal would lead to a total politicization of the education system. Given that politicians change after a certain period in office, it is unlikely that those who will come in next will offer the same support. In the article by Stephen Steinberg (2016), the author points out that that government will start to offer colleges money with strings attached. This way, the entire education system will be in the hands of politicians. When this happens, the education system will not benefit from innovation as it has traditionally done. Innovation only comes when colleges are given the freedom to solve their problems on their own with minimum control. Colleges will have to rely and wait on government decisions in order to make any changes. Steinberg (2016) adds that the current education problems in the country have not been addressed by the government, and it is therefore unproductive to entrust the government with the higher education. under this proposal, as noted by Steinberg (2016), not only is Bernie Sanders being given that powers to impose his will on the education system in the country, it empowers other presidents who will come after him. Steinberg (2016) adds that this is more complicated considering that the current higher education system does not meet the quality standards demanded by the public. Giving the government full control will not help meet these standards because of the problem of politics.
The issue of quality in the education system has also been cited as a major limitation of the Sanders’ program. For example, in the article by James (2015), the author argues that free college will have a direct impact on the quality of services students receive. Currently, both private and public colleges compete in order to provide the best services and education to students. However, if made free, these colleges will no longer be in competition, and this will reduce the pressure to serve students well. In addition, students currently enjoy a wide variety of programs from various institutions aimed at attracting students. However, if this program were to be implemented, these colleges will not be offering such choices, and this will limit the educational programs available to students. Similar sentiments are echoed in the article by Halff (2015) where the author adds that colleges will only be interested in meeting their enrollment goals and passing students. No focus will be given to the success of these students in future. With the increase in enrollments as a result of the free college, Sanders’ program will make colleges crowded, and the ability of these institutions to meet the needs of students will be reduced. When the quality of education declines, the economy will be affected. The workforce Sanders intends to improve will actually become worse due to the dropping standards in the schools.
The analysis above shows that although the proposal by Sanders seems to benefit the education system and the economy as a whole, the drawbacks are significant. The cost of funding this program will be significantly high, and this is likely to put a lot of pressure on the economy. Furthermore, free college is likely to reduce the quality of education offered by higher education. The fact that this program empowers the government to have significant control of the colleges makes it difficult to improve the education system in the country. It will only lead to a politicization of the higher education sector, and will not help address the current problems in this sector. It can thus be concluded that despite the proposal by Sanders sounding good on paper, it does hurt the education system and the economy in the long run.
- Berniesanders.com. “On The Issues: It’s Time To Make College Tuition Free And Debt Free.” Bernie Sanders. N.p., 2016. Web. < https://berniesanders.com/issues/its-time-to-make- college-tuition-free-and-debt-free/> Accessed 15 April, 2016.
- Halff, Noa. “Students, faculty discuss pros, cons of free college education.” The Daily Targum, Nov. 3, 2015. Web < http://www.dailytargum.com/article/2015/11/students-faculty-discuss-pros-and-cons-of-free-college-education> Accessed 15 April, 2016.
- James, Kevin. “Bernie’s Bad College Idea.” U.S. News & World Report, May 27, 2015. Web <http://www.usnews.com/opinion/knowledge-bank/2015/05/27/why-bernie-sanders-free- public-college-plan-is-a-bad-idea> Accessed 15 April, 2016.
- Lane, Charles. “College doesn’t need to be free.” The Washington Post, May 21, 2015. Web <https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/college-doesnt-need-to-be-free/2015/05/21/4453fc94-ff0f-11e4-805c-c3f407e5a9e9_story.html> Accessed 15 April, 2016.
- Steinberg, Stephen. “A Critical Look Inside Bernie Sanders’ College For All Plan.” The Huffington Post, April, 14, 2016. Web <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-steinberg/a-critical-look-inside-beb9670808.html> Accessed 15 April, 2016.