FREE, FREE, FREE: 2020 Dems dish up higher ed policies

As the 2020 race heats up, Democrat presidential hopefuls are charging into campaign season in full force with progressive platforms promising reduced student loan debt, higher taxes, and a multitude of “free” services like healthcare and college.

Campus Reform looked at five popular Democratic candidates’ positions on higher education such as free tuition, debt forgiveness, and loan adjustments. Mayor Pete Buttigieg along with Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.) Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Bernie Sanders (Vt.), and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) have all made a stand, in one form or another, regarding higher education issues. 

To determine each candidate’s position, campaign websites were consulted as well as transcripts from the recent CNN town hall. In the event a campaign did not contain a clear platform or stance on issues, such as Klobuchar and Buttigieg, the candidate’s stance was derived from statements made during interviews, as well as by using the non-partisan website, “On the Issues.”

It was unclear where any of these 2020 Democrat candidates stand on allowing illegal residents to receive in-state tuition rates, a move 18 states have taken over the past several years. When asked to clarify by Campus Reform, all five campaigns failed to do so in time for publishing.

[RELATED: Leftists preach ‘free’ college. W.V. lawmakers appear to listen.]

Pete Buttigieg

While Buttigieg has yet to publish a clear platform, he did firmly state in an April debate that he does not support the free college efforts made popular by his opponents, according to Inside Higher Ed. Buttigieg did, however, support making colleges affordable along with refinancing student loans.

“So there are several things that we’ve got to do...we’ve got to induce states to carry more of the burden, instead of continuing to pass it on to students,” Buttigieg said during a recent CNN town hall. “Students are getting squeezed because states are less and less willing to appropriate the funds to make sure that in-state public college tuition is truly affordable.”

“Now, on the back end, we’ve also got to work on student loan debt,” he added. “If I can refinance the -- when interest rates change, I can refinance the debt on our house, then it stands to reason that you should be able to do with student debt, too.”

Kamala Harris

Harris, during the town hall, declared herself a proponent of tuition-free higher education for both two and four-year institutions and a loan program for indebted students.

“I do support debt-free college,” she said. “I also believe that what we need to do is we need to allow students to refinance your student loan debt. And in particular, I’m supporting an initiative that would allow you to refinance your student loan debt such that it would be on par with the federal lending amounts.”

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Klobuchar also spoke against tuition-free college during an event in February, stating, “I am not for free four-year college for all, no.” In a CNN town hall on Monday, Klobuchar elaborated by suggesting a plan to reduce student loan debt. 

“The first thing I would do is allow students and no matter how old they refinance their student loans at that rate that’s a little above three percent...we could even go lower to find some even better rate than that. But that’s what I think we need to do to bring the interest rate payments down for those Americans that still have the student loans,” the Minnesota senator said.

Bernie Sanders

Sanders, according to his campaign, is calling for free tuition for all college as well as adjustments to student loan debt, a sentiment he reiterated at the CNN townhall:

“I believe that every young person in this country, regardless of his or her income, has the right to get all of the education they need,” said Sanders, a self-described Democratic Socialist. “That’s why I have fought hard with some success to move toward making public colleges and universities tuition free and very substantially reduce student debt.”

In the past, Sanders has also advocated for student debt forgiveness, but his current higher education campaign platform does not.

[RELATED: Bernie Sanders’ home state could soon offer ‘free’ college tuition]

Elizabeth Warren

Warren may very well have the most ambitious plan for higher education, calling for tuition-free college, expanded Pell Grant programs, and student debt forgiveness, which she outlined during the town hall.

“What we have to do as a country is roll back that debt,” the Massachusetts senator said. “And so, I have two parts to the proposal. Part one is that we say that we’re going to roll back student loan debt for about 95 percent of students who have debt. That’s part one.”

”And part two is to make sure that we never get in this mess again on student loan debt and that is to make college universally available with free tuition and fees, and to put more money into Pell grants so that students of color, so that our poorest students have real access to college and that we put real money into our historically black colleges and universities,” Warren said. 

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