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thucythucy's Journal
thucythucy's Journal
June 3, 2016

On opening college education for all who can benefit

I don't understand why Secretary Clinton's campaign is being so obtuse about Senator Sander's proposal to offer (as I understand it) free college tuition to all those who can pass the various entrance requirements.

First of all--it's an entirely realistic goal. Several western European nations (I'm most familiar with Germany) enable their citizens, and even foreign visitors, tuition free college education, as long as students pass the exams and do the work required. This isn't some impossible, unattainable dream. It's something other nations have done, and like the idea of universal health insurance, it's something that our nation would do well to try to emulate.

Secondly--the argument that "I don't want the taxpayers to foot the bill for Donald Trump's kids" is beside the point. That's like saying you want to means test Social Security, since, after all, Donald Trump probably qualifies for benefits. The whole idea of an entitlement (and I hate that phraseology, but it's what we're stuck with for the present) is that EVERYONE has a chance to reap the benefits. This enormously simplifies the system. To qualify for Social Security pension benefits once one reaches the appropriate age, all one needs is a Social Security card and evidence that you've paid into the system for the required number of quarters. To add some sort of income eligibility limit vastly increases the paperwork--and thus the frustration--of people trying to apply. Frustration with any government program almost inevitably leads to lower public support for said program. Not to mention--the more people qualify, the wider the base of political support.

Thirdly--a university system open to the middle and working classes has historically been an incubator for liberal and progressive change. Let's take a quick look at the history. The GI Bill of Rights, passed in 1944 under FDR, vastly increased not only those able to go to college (basically anyone who had been in the service, more than twelve million people) but it also vastly increased funds available to public colleges and universities. It's basically what created the public college system as we've known it since the 1950s. It was out of that system that tens if not hundreds of thousands of middle and working class students became politically educated--resulting in groups like SNCC, the SDS, and myriad others at the forefront of the civil rights, antiwar movements. Labor history, feminism, and LGBT rights groups also benefited.

All this was not lost on the right. Ronald Reagan ran for governor of California largely on a platform of hostility to the University of California. Among his first actions as governor was to begin to do all her could to dismantle that system. His election to president coincided with the pullback from the commitment to an affordable college education to all who could benefit. More than that--by allowing tuition costs and fees to skyrocket--thereby either putting college out of reach, or requiring students to assume crushing debt--meant both a less educated electorate (which has generally hurt Democrats and progressives) and young people less able to engage in social activism. This means political activism has become, more and more, the province of the well to do, or at any rate more difficult for people to try. It's tough to do volunteer work for the environment, reproductive rights, anti-domestic violence work, or whatever your focus might be--if you have to slave away to pay off some humungous debt, as soon as you leave college.

For all these reasons, Senator Sanders' proposal makes sense, not only to younger people in or entering college, but to liberals, progressives, and the Democratic Party as an institution. Like labor unions, college students used to be among our most stalwart activists and supporters. That both of these have been under unremitting attack from the right is no coincidence, nor is it any accident.

There's nothing wrong with having a goal beyond our reach at the moment. Like a moon landing, a polio vaccine, or health insurance for all, there are certain aspirational goals that have a huge range of side benefits, even before the prize is eventually attained.

I try not to be cynical, and I don't buy the notion that everything the Clintons do is to benefit the one percent. But the tone-deafness of how the Clinton campaign has treated this issue really has me stumped. I'm hoping, therefore, that someone in the campaign might read this, and that it might make some sort of political, social, and ethical sense.

BTW, and for what it's worth, I voted for Bernie in my primary, but will absolutely support Hillary in the general if she turns out to be the nominee. All the more reason for me to want to see the campaign change its tone and direction on this issue.

Thank you all for your patience. I have to get going for a while, but will be back to engage with folks who might have various response to this OP.

Best wishes to all.

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