NPR, Dem congressman criticize Sanders’ free college proposal

Bernie Sanders’ plan to make college tuition- and debt-free for all Americans has always been anathema to conservatives, but now liberals are joining the chorus of criticism, too.

While opponents of Sanders’ proposal have typically focused on the enormous costs involved—$700 billion over 10 years, by the candidate’s own estimate—a “fact-check” released Wednesday by National Public Radio argues that the “College for All Act” would probably not even achieve its stated goal of making the U.S. “the most educated workforce in the world.”

NPR notes that “the United States currently has the ninth most educated workforce in the world, with 45 percent of young adults having earned some form of diploma or certificate,” but claims that evidence from countries with significantly higher college-graduation rates suggests that the Sanders approach would do little to close the gap.

Specifically, three countries that “are smoking us” when it comes to post-secondary education—South Korea with a 67 percent graduation rate, as well as Canada and Japan, each with a 58 percent graduation rate—all charge tuition at their public universities that is comparable to in-state tuition rates at U.S. schools, and recent Canadian graduates even have similar student loan debts to their American counterparts.

“So whatever the differences in education systems, policy, culture, and demographics among these three countries and the United States,” NPR concludes, “it's clear, at least on the face of it, that free tuition is not required to produce ‘the most educated workforce in the world’.”

[RELATED: Clinton proposes $350 billion plan for ‘debt-free’ college]

Sanders also touts the examples of other countries which have eliminated college tuition, such as Germany, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, suggesting that the U.S. should follow their lead in the interest of boosting enrollment, but NPR counters that the graduation rates in those countries likewise undermine his argument.

Of those four countries, only Norway has a higher graduation rate than the U.S., at 47 percent, while Sweden is tied with the U.S. at 45 percent. Finland’s graduation rate, however, is only 40 percent, and Germany posts just 30 percent.

Two other countries that also offer tuition-free college, but which Sanders does not reference in his plan, are Slovenia and Brazil, which record college graduation rates of 37 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

Sanders’ proposal has also been challenged from a different angle recently by U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), The Advocate reports,citing a public statement he released this week on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign in which the Congressman criticizes Sanders for courting support at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) while advancing a plan that does nothing to support those institutions.

[RELATED: Sanders says Clinton’s tuition-free college plan is too complicated]

“By focusing exclusively on making public college free, Sanders’ plan wouldn’t spend a dime on private HBCUs and threatens roughly 50 percent of HBCUs that are not public,” Richmond says. “As Senator Sanders promotes his HBCU tour, he owes it to the students to explain why half the HBCUs in the country aren’t worth the any [sic] investment.”

Campus Reform reached out to the Sanders campaign for reactions to both lines of criticism, but did not receive a response by press time.

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