By ANDREW SHEN
Running on a progressive platform, Bernie Sanders’ campaign includes many plans that aim to improve the general welfare of our nation. There is no doubt that Sanders shows his altruistic side by trying to improve the lives and financial situations of young adults, but every plan must be grounded into reality in order to work. The idea of free college may appeal to millions of disillusioned adolescents like us, but Sanders’ plan for free public college is unrealistic and impossible, because it will likely see funding problems and major political opposition if implemented.
Sanders, a major proponent of reducing income inequality, weaves that intention into his free college plan by stating that the $75 billion cost can be paid for by Wall Street speculation taxes. This notion, while seemingly rational at first glance, holds many flaws. Sanders and other economists who endorse this plan look toward other countries, like Britain and France, where similar versions of the tax have been successfully implemented, in order to prove its feasibility. Sure, Sanders can propose a speculation tax and cite previous examples, but he does not necessarily have the means to get it passed, especially since America’s political system differs from those of other nations. If special interests are as ingrained in politics as Sanders believes, he may not even get the tax through Congress, because congressional Wall Street backers will voice opposition. Sanders would need to either maneuver the tax through Congress, which is unlikely, or he would have to tax us further, reducing the effectiveness of his plan to improve American livelihoods. Since most legislators would not be fully supportive of the funding behind this plan, the free public college idea as it is right now is not viable. Without the appropriate funding, any government program is unrealistic. Sanders must think of a backup or supplementary funding plan in order to achieve the goal of free public colleges.
While a potential way of solving the funding issue would be to increase taxes, this would only worsen our nation’s situation. There is already enough controversy on tax rates as they are now, and Sanders would be seen as not fulfilling his campaign promises to reduce income inequality if he implemented such a raise. Sanders’ stated goal regarding the free public college plan is to improve the productivity and competitiveness of our workforce. Yet what is the need for greater efficiency if most of our gain will go toward funding the very programs we need? Seventy-five billion dollars is a lot of money. If Wall Street is not going to pay for free public college tuition, then we are. Of course free public education is a goal we should all strive for, but not when the burden falls on us, regular taxpayers, instead of the rich Wall Street speculators that Sanders would like to target. Additionally, there is no guarantee that free college will necessarily increase the productivity of our workforce. NPR (National Public Radio) observes that out of the many countries Sanders cites as having free public college tuition, only Norway exceeds the United States in educational attainment, while other nations are either around current American levels or even below the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) average. Although Sanders holds good intentions in his ambitious free college plan, they are not necessarily backed by sound data and may end up backfiring on us.
Another problem which is often overlooked in Bernie Sanders’ plan is its potential ly negative effect on private colleges. If the free cost of public college is a much more attractive option, private universities will confront many challenges. Private universities are not just limited to the Ivy League institutions, which will always be attractive because of their brand names, but also refer to the smaller schools that depend on students attending their institutions. These universities would have to greatly reduce tuition in order to attract students, which may not be possible because these universities need funding as well, particularly those without large endowments. Additional government intervention in higher education, while potentially offering benefits, may not necessarily be successful. Private universities have their own merits and should not be collateral damage for Sanders’ plan.
It is obvious that Sanders’ plan holds some merit, especially as it is being translated into greater support from millennials during the current election cycle. However, in order to be politically aware citizens, we must be able to differentiate the realistic parts of his college plan from what will most likely not be able to get accomplished. The low-interest loans aimed to reduce student debts are perfectly reasonable, but we must consider the fact that the Wall Street speculation tax might not be able to work, let alone get passed. We may end up burdening ourselves during this risky endeavor, not to mention the potential negative effects it could have on private colleges. Unfortunately, despite giving us hope for a better America, Sanders’ college plan is not the panacea to all of our college problems.