Political Focus: Clinton’s tuition proposal

Melissa Deatsch, Political Columnist

Many topics were covered in last week’s first presidential debate. However, one of the most popular topics in young voters was relatively absent: the cost of higher education. No questions were asked regarding the estimated $1.3 trillion of debt crippling 43.3 million Americans, but Hillary Clinton snuck two brief comments in during answers to related topics. 

So, since we didn’t get to dive deep into higher education reform during the debate, Political Focus will attempt to take it on over the next two weeks. Donald Trump has been relatively quiet on this topic, so we’ll analyze the extensive proposal Clinton laid out after earning the endorsement of Senator Bernie Sanders, then take a look at what Trump has said on the topic. 

Clinton’s proposal on tuition

Clinton’s proposal can be classified into two categories: benefits for future students and benefits for those currently in debt. This week, the focus is on benefits for future students, specifically the promise of free tuition.

“By 2021, families with income up to $125,000 will pay no tuition at in-state four-year public colleges and universities,” is the boldest claim in the proposals section of Clinton’s campaign website. 

This means the 83 percent of our population that falls into this income category would be able to attend any in-state, public university tuition-free. Additionally, under Clinton’s plan, all community colleges would be tuition-free. 

This promise from her campaign is met with incredible support from young voters for obvious reasons. According to the Federal Reserve, the average amount of debt students face is estimated at $30,000, dependent on the type of degree in which they are investing. The median is closer to $12,000.

How will the government pay for that?

Nothing is ever really “free.” The word should make voters skeptical. 

The details surrounding how a Clinton administration would go about implementing this proposal and paying for it are fuzzy; the problems surrounding the promise of $0 tuition prices are vast. This very reason is why Clinton previously opposed a similar plan put forward by Bernie Sanders in the primaries.

The cost of this program is estimated by Clinton’s campaign at $500 billion over ten years, which will be paid for in a way very familiar to the Clinton campaign: “closing high income tax loopholes.” 

It was estimated by one Bloomberg reporter that “if [Clinton] managed to enact all of her plans, her top bracket would be inching close to a marginal tax rate of 50 percent.”

It’s argued that, if it’s even possible to implement a tax increase at that level, there would be dramatic unwanted effects on the economy. And we’d still have more problems to address.

Clinton hasn’t gone into specifics, but her plan would require substantial state contributions, The Wall Street Journal reports. If the states don’t invest properly in higher education, there will be detrimental negative effects to the universities. 

Clinton’s plan differs from Sanders’ because it isn’t offering free college to everyone. Clinton has said in the past that she has no desire to pay for Trump’s kids to go to college. However, promising free tuition to 83 percent of the population would inevitably mean handing free money to families that could have afforded paying for college.

What does Trump have to say?

The answer is . . . not much. News outlets, however, have been able to string together some brief statements from the Republican nominee in order to presume where the candidate lands on the issue.

Most of what Trump has presented regarding the student loan problem refers to the loan process and not tuition costs. However, Trump has come out against President Obama’s proposal to make community college free, so it can be assumed that he’s not a fan of Clinton’s proposal either.

Next week, Political Focus will examine the other end of the debt problem: How will Clinton’s proposal benefit those already facing student loan debt?