Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) just rolled out another bold policy platform — universal free public college and a promise to cancel student debt.

Specifically, Sen. Warren wants to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt for those earning less than $100,000/year and make public colleges and universities tuition-free. In a recent post on Medium, her campaign outlined the details of the policy, which is estimated to cancel approximately 95% of all student debt, and entirely cancel the debt loads of approximately 75% of debtors. Warren wrote that the policy would “Provide an enormous middle-class stimulus that will boost economic growth, increase home purchases, and fuel a new wave of small business formation.”

“[A] public college education is like a public K-12 education — a basic public good that should be available to everyone with free tuition and zero debt at graduation,” Warren’s campaign wrote.

According to StudentLoanHero, the current U.S. student debt load is around $1.56 trillion, and 44.7 million Americans have outstanding student debt balances. The class of 2018 alone graduated with an average debt load just shy of $30,000, and around $1.43 trillion of all outstanding student debt is in federal loans from the U.S. Department of Education. Around two-thirds of Americans who graduated from public colleges and universities have federal student loans.

Warren wrote that the student debt crisis was a non-issue for her, as she was able to enroll in the University of Houston at age 19 for just $50 per semester in 1968 (around $363 in today’s dollars), which she was able to pay for by working a part-time job as a waitress. This holds up — as Grit Post reported in 2018, one student’s full course load at the University of Houston in 1975, plus fees for things like parking, laboratory, and team uniforms, cost just $152.50. But Warren says today’s students don’t have that same opportunity:

Today, it’s virtually impossible for a young person to find that kind of opportunity. As states have invested less per-student at community colleges and public four-year colleges, the schools themselves have raised tuition and fees to make up the gap. And rather than stepping in to hold states accountable, or to pick up more of the tab and keep costs reasonable, the federal government went with a third option: pushing families that can’t afford to pay the outrageous costs of higher education towards taking out loans.

The Massachusetts senator admitted that, while her proposal would be costly, the cost would be more than covered by her proposed tax on net worths in excess of $50 million, which she calls the “Ultra-Millionaire Tax.” Warren estimates that tax alone would generate more than $2.75 trillion in revenue each decade, and the policy itself has the support of 60% of Americans, and even 50% of Republicans, according to a 2018 Politico/Morning Consult poll.

Sen. Warren’s announcement drew widespread praise from student debtors. New York Magazine writer Sarah Jones said the money saved from not having to pay down student loans could help her save money for a house. Lauren Linsalata, whose Twitter bio says she works in higher education marketing, said the proposal made her “sweaty (in a good way).” Podcaster Adam Best called Warren’s policy platform the most “impressive” of any candidate to date. New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie ridiculed the argument that students should just not attend colleges they can’t afford by reminding his followers that the public university he attended for undergrad still costs roughly $34,000/year for in-state students.

Despite her policy platform, Warren is still only polling in 4th place in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire, behind Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), former Vice President Joe Biden, and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg.


Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.

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