The Student’s Candidate

Graphic by Astrid Hernandez | Mercury Staff

As university students, we have a multitude of concerns; the cost of college, healthcare, housing afforda-bility and fair employment, both before and after graduation to name a few. According to the Student Monitor, which sampled 1,020 students, while 67% of students believe their GPA is a cause of daily stress, 48% of students consider the “biggest problem on campus” to be the cost of education. As we ap-proach graduation, our academic anxiety is then overshadowed by an economic one. What can help us? Who can help us? Who is at the forefront proposing College for All, Medicare for All, Housing for All and Jobs for All? Let me introduce you to senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

College for All is a comprehensive higher education proposal that includes, among other things, making public colleges, universities and trade schools tuition-and-fee-free via the College for All Act, ensuring a debt-free college degree for low-income students via an expansion of Pell Grants, tripling funding for the Work-Study Program to reach more than 2.1 million students and cancelling all student loan debt. All $1.6 trillion dollars and counting of student loans canceled, no questions asked. All of this will cost ap-proximately $2.2 trillion, and will be funded through a Wall Street tax on stock, bond and derivative trades, same as a sales tax when we make daily purchases. This tax would raise $2.4 trillion in the first 10 years.

Though I consider Bernie’s solution to be the best, he isn’t the only candidate offering proposals on reduc-ing the cost of a college education. To be fair to the other candidates, we should examine the higher edu-cation plans of the other candidates, such as Sander’s supposed political twins, Elizabeth Warren and Ka-mala Harris, who I would offer is an example of how not to do a student loan forgiveness program.

Senator Elizabeth Warren proposes the Affordable Higher Education for All plan. Like Bernie, Warren is committed to eliminating the cost of tuition and fees at every public two-year and four-year college as well as expanding the Pell Grant. However, her student debt relief program isn’t a comprehensive as Sen-ator Sanders’. She promises the cancellation up to the first $50,000 in student loan debt, cancelling debt for more than 75% of student debtors. However, the remaining 25% of student debtors are then placed on a scale with higher household incomes receiving less loan cancellation that stops after $250,000. Ber-nie’s College for All plan would relieve the 25% of student debtors that Warren’s plan would either par-tially or not at all relieve. Senator Kamala Harris’ higher education plan shares some of the complexity of Warren’s and none of the comprehensiveness of Bernie’s. As part of a larger plan called “Reducing the Opportunity Gap,” one of Harris’ loan relief initiatives was mocked on Twitter when it was discovered that participants could have up to $20,000 of their loan debt forgiven, but only if they were “Pell grant recipients who start a business that operates for three years in disadvantaged communities.” To add the cherry on top, if participants qualified they could “defer all of their student loans, interest-free, during a business-formation period that can last for as many as three years.” Talk about complex! It looks as if it’s designed to not work for anyone. A minority of the minority of students would benefit from Harris’ plan. Bernie’s plan is superior, no contest.

After viewing the two other most talked about higher education plans, it is clear Bernie’s College for All plan best addresses students’ primary challenge: the cost of higher education. Yet major concerns are raised, such as paying for College for All, maintaining its funding and ensuring student completion rates. Alongside the cancellation of $1.6 trillion in student debt, the College for All Act will provide at least $48 billion annually to eliminate tuition and fees at “four-year public colleges and universities, tribal colleges, community colleges, trade schools and apprenticeship programs.” According to Prof. James Felkerson, a visiting instructor in economics at Bard College, in Working Paper No. 698, the 2007-2009 Federal Re-serve bailout was calculated to have cost in excess of $29 trillion. Remember that when anyone says “we can’t afford it.” If the College for All budget was allocated half the amount as the 2007-2009 Fed bailout of Wall Street, we would not only afford the initial down payment on College for All of $2.2 trillion, but also continue its funding for about 279 years, and that’s ignoring that College for All will be covered by the Wall Street Tax. Finally, in a 2011 paper by Syracuse University sociology Prof. Vincent Tinto, student completion hinges more on “classroom experience” even as institutional enrollments, which at the time swelled by 11 million more students, and expenditures in improvement programs increase. Neither ex-pansion translated to increased completion rates. So, if student completion relies more on classroom ex-periences and 48% of students consider the cost of education to be one of the biggest problems on cam-pus, then implementing free higher education would have a negligible to beneficial effect on students.

Although Bernie is not alone in ensuring tuition-and-fee-free public higher education, he is unmatched with respect to student debt relief. There is a difference between entirely bailing out debt and progres-sively reducing debt. Yet we must also be cognizant of the fact that Bernie Sanders isn’t the end-all-be-all for the future of this country; he is not the end, but instead the means. Bernie continuously and consist-ently reminds us that he is building a movement rooting itself in Democratic Socialism best captured by his slogan, “Not me. Us!”

If you want to learn more about the Bernie Sanders campaign and Democratic Socialism, you can visit his campaign website at, as well as the Democratic Socialists of America website at Finally, don’t forget to register to vote for the Democratic primary by February 3, 2020. And when you vote, consider how Bernie Sanders and our burgeoning democratic socialist movement is the start of our society becoming truly democratic.

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