Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton announced her college affordability plan in New Hampshire on Monday. Republican presidential candidates have already criticized her day-old plan as too expensive and lacking innovative ideas.
Under her plan, which would cost $350 billion over a decade, states would be encouraged to gradually increase spending on public colleges and curb a fast rise in tuition through $175 billion in grants to assure students they would not have to take out loans to afford tuition at those schools. Those states would be asked to enroll more middle class and low-income students and lower living expenses.
At a town hall meeting in Exeter, New Hampshire on Monday, Clinton spoke about the challenges middle class and poor families face when deciding whether to attend college:
I’ve always believed that in America if you work hard and do your part you should be able to get ahead and stay ahead. That is the basic bargain that always set our country apart … I want to talk about one of the easiest ways we can actually raise incomes — by making college affordable and available to every American … Here’s the problem — states are slashing education budgets and colleges keep raising prices. In-state tuition and fees for four-year public colleges increased 42 between 2004 and 2014 — whose incomes were raised 42 percent? So families are left with a very painful choice. They say either you can’t afford it or you do whatever you can to pay for it, even that that means going deeply into debt.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said on Fox & Friends Monday morning that Clinton “has to figure out who to raise taxes on, so this is about making doing business in America even more expensive, raising taxes and then taking all that money and pouring into an outdated higher education system.”
He also said there needed to be “competition” among colleges, which was likely a nod to the for-profit college industry. Rubio has supported for-profit colleges in the past. He wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Education asking it to exercise “leniency” on Corinthian Colleges and accepted $27,600 from the company over the past five years. It has since shut down its campuses after the department stated that is misled students on post-graduation data.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush criticized the plan as “irresponsible” and cast the plan as a federal intervention. Clinton’s plan actually works more with states and universities to institute cost-saving plans compared to her opponents on the left, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). The plan would be paid for by placing a cap on the itemized deductions higher income households are able to take through tax returns and would cost $350 billion over 10 years. Bush released this statement to Breitbart News:
We don’t need more top-down Washington solutions that will raise the cost of college even further and shift the burden to hardworking taxpayers. We need to change the incentives for colleges with fresh policies that result in more individualization and choices, drive down overall costs, and improve the value of a college degree, which will help lead to real, sustained four-percent economic growth.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also knocked the cost of the plan, calling it a “government handout to schools.” He said in a statement to Breitbart News:
Higher education, like K-12, is a state function, not a federal one. And Governors can deal with this far better than Hillary … We must stop overlooking the importance of trade schools and reject a one-sized-fits-all college plan for every American. But most importantly, we must grow our economy out of this bottomless pit because if our children and grandchildren cannot find a good-paying job, everything else is just political theater.
Clinton isn’t opposed to vocational education and technical institutes, however. In a June town hall meeting held in Rochester, New Hampshire, she supported the idea, and said this when asked a question about alternative learning styles:
I was in a community college here, New Hampshire Technical Institute, talking to the people there, and there were students who were taking courses who were in high school. That’s one way of doing it, having kind of a group of high schools send their kids to a technical institute if they’re interested. I went to one in Iowa where young kids were learning how to be machinists. They were juniors and seniors in high school. And the ones who were seniors had jobs lined up, starting to pay like $40,000, because they were coming out as a certified machinist. Well, we need to make that available for more kids.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tweeted at Clinton, “We need transparency, accountability & innovation in higher education reform” and said her plan “doesn’t actually address tuition costs,” while his does. The link he tweeted, which provides an overview of his education policies, mentions income-share agreements and tax credits that would help pay for programs that allow students to pay down debt in exchange for community service.
The income-share agreements, which Rubio has also supported, allow investors to pay some of a student’s tuition in exchange for students providing a certain amount of their income for so many years. There are a lot of unanswered questions about how income-share agreements would work in the real world, such as how it would affect students’ choice of employer and how less successful students who don’t choose industries that lead to high-income positions would fare under such a plan.