The Courier

Why the Democrats’ new debt-free college plan won’t really make college debt-free

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






File 20180725 194149 7a03f9.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A new ‘debt-free’ college plan has little chance of success.
ARENA Creative/www.shutterstock.com

Rising student loan debt and concerns about college affordability got considerable attention from Democrats in the 2016 presidential campaign. Those issues are bound to get renewed attention since House Democrats recently introduced the Aim Higher Act – an effort to update the Higher Education Act, the federal law that governs federal higher education programs.

The bill promises “debt-free” college to students. As scholars who focus on higher education finance and student aid, we believe the bill actually falls well short of that promise.

What ‘free’ really means

In its current form, the bill guarantees two years of tuition-free community college to students. However, the Democratic bill does not address the fact that tuition is only about one-fifth of the total cost of attending community college. Rent, food, books and transportation make up the rest of the cost of attendance and are not covered by this plan.

The “debt-free” label is problematic for other reasons. For instance, the maximum Pell Grant – US$6,095 for the 2018-2019 school year – already covers community college tuition in nearly all states. This means the neediest students likely already have access to federal grant funds to cover tuition. Although the bill would increase Pell awards by $500 each year and reduce debt somewhat for the neediest students, many needy students will still need to take out loans to attend college.

States may not cooperate

Another reason the Democrats’ “debt-free” college plan does not live up to its name is the fact that its tuition-free provision requires states to maintain their funding for public colleges in order qualify for more federal funds under the proposed bill. This approach is similar to the state-federal partnership that was part of the recent Medicaid expansion, which led 16 conservative states to decline to expand Medicaid. Many conservative-leaning states might push back against the Aim Higher Act’s tuition-free provision because it restricts states’ ability to cut higher education spending.

Slim chance of becoming law

It is unlikely that either the PROSPER Act or the Aim Higher Act become law in the near future given the lack of comprehensive support within the Republican Party and Democrats’ minority status in Congress. But there are a few parts of both bills that could get bipartisan support, such as simplifying the process for applying for federal financial aid, creating better data systems to help track students’ outcomes, and allowing Pell Grants to be used for shorter-term training programs. Although neither the Republican nor the Democratic bills appear likely to pass, expect both parties to use their proposals in the upcoming midterm elections.

Robert Kelchen, Assistant Professor of Higher Education, Seton Hall University and Dennis A. Kramer II, Assistant Professor of Education Policy, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Comment

Comments are closed.

Navigate Right
Navigate Left
  • Why the Democrats’ new debt-free college plan won’t really make college debt-free

    Opinion

    Let Them Speak; Benefits to bringing a Controversial Speaker to College Campuses

  • Why the Democrats’ new debt-free college plan won’t really make college debt-free

    Opinion

    How Our Phones are Messing with Our Grades

  • Why the Democrats’ new debt-free college plan won’t really make college debt-free

    Opinion

    Opinion: It’s naive to think college athletes have time for school

  • Why the Democrats’ new debt-free college plan won’t really make college debt-free

    Opinion

    Lack of urgency shown in Cubs player domestic abuse investigation

  • Why the Democrats’ new debt-free college plan won’t really make college debt-free

    Opinion

    A bittersweet victory for women everywhere, but is it enough?

  • Why the Democrats’ new debt-free college plan won’t really make college debt-free

    Opinion

    University Should be Affordable for All Students

  • Why the Democrats’ new debt-free college plan won’t really make college debt-free

    Opinion

    I cleared my student loan debt, but my method is not for everyone.

  • Why the Democrats’ new debt-free college plan won’t really make college debt-free

    Opinion

    What happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown prep: His freedom to bury her burden.

  • Why the Democrats’ new debt-free college plan won’t really make college debt-free

    Opinion

    Opinion: Educators must prepare for the dismantling of affirmative action

  • Why the Democrats’ new debt-free college plan won’t really make college debt-free

    Opinion

    On The Serena Williams Controversy- It’s Not Arrogance If You Can Back It Up

College of DuPage's student newspaper | Est. 1967
Why the Democrats’ new debt-free college plan won’t really make college debt-free