Bernie Sanders Pitches Free College. It’s Worth a Thought.

Bernie Sanders is not going to be president. The whole purpose of his campaign is just to push the discussion within the Democratic Party to the left, and bring about more left-wing policies when we eventually choose a president.

But it turns out that this famously radical senator has some polices that Americans actually rather like. As Josh Harkinson wrote earlier in the week at Mother Jones, America’s views align surprisingly well with those of “Socialist” Bernie Sanders

And that makes a recent proposal of Sen. Sanders pretty interesting. Why don’t we just make public college free, for everyone who attends? According to an article at USA Today:

Senator Bernie Sanders has officially introduced a bill that would eliminate undergraduate tuition. Titled the “College for All Act,” the bill would eliminate the $70 billion dollar tuition costs at all 4-year public colleges and universities.

Under the plan, the Federal Government would cover 67% — $47 billion dollars each year — of the costs.

States would be required to produce the remaining 33% of the costs, or 23 billion dollars.

Sanders would fund this plan using a “Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street.” There would be new taxes on investment firms, hedge funds, as well as additional taxes on bonds and derivatives.

Bernie

One of the weaknesses of this proposal, or one of the reasons it really won’t be implemented, is that tuition and state colleges and universities is almost entirely a function of state government. Tuition isn’t rising their because of limited funding from the federal government (the federal government has never provided much in the way of financial assistance to state college) it’s getting higher because state governments aren’t keeping up with the rising cost of college.

And Sen. Sanders knows this; Vermont, which he represents in the Senate, has some of the most expensive state colleges in the United States. Conservatives would be sure to oppose the idea of bringing in a lot more federal money to state colleges, because more money means more control.

His bill would also require state universities to spend at least the same amount on students each year and eventually require that tenure-track professors teach at least 75 percent of classes.

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel writes at the Washington Post that the Sanders plan can’t work because “so much of what Sanders is calling for would take a level of enforcement and compliance that would be difficult to achieve.” Well, of course, but the point of Bernie Sanders is not to do what he says; it’s to get the Democrats to propose a slightly more conservative version of what Sanders says.

Hillary Clinton, for her part, has started to talk on the campaign about “debt-free” college, which is a little different (and sort of vague at this point), but at least a step in the same direction.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer