By Gerald Friedman and Mark Paul
The writers are respectively Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a graduate student in Economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Horace Mann and John Dewey understood that universal public education is essential for a functioning democracy. Their successors built public university systems open to all to promote democracy and an efficient and fair economy. But this vision has been forgotten, and crushing fees and tuition now close public higher education to far too many. African Americans, especially, suffer because centuries of slavery and discrimination have denied them the family wealth to send children to college. We risk losing another generation to poverty by denying young people the education to compete for the productive and high paying jobs in a rapidly changing, high tech economy.
Bernie Sanders is winning the votes of millennials because his program of tuition-free public higher education will open opportunity by restoring public education to the vision of its founders. He would return higher education to the people, reopening public colleges and universities to all, to promote democracy, economic opportunity, and a more educated and productive workforce. The current system to finance higher education in the U.S. is broken for all young people. Tuition and fees now total nearly $70,000 for a four-year degree; this puts even a bachelor’s degree at a public institution beyond the reach of most middle-class families, forcing students to take on nearly $30,000 in debt, even more for African-Americans. Restricting access to education and forcing students to go deeply into debt burdens not only the young but also an economy weighed down by personal debt. And these burdens are exacerbated by government policies that set student loan interest rates at usurious levels.
For African Americans, soaring tuition and higher fees are particularly burdensome because centuries of slavery and discrimination have prevented them from accumulating family wealth, and their relative poverty limits their ability to finance higher education. The legacy of discrimination limits the share of African Americans completing their bachelor’s degree to under half that of white students while forcing black students to rely even more heavily on loans. We all suffer from discrimination that restricts the opportunities open to young African Americans, and the economic waste of an education policy that prevents them from accumulating skills and contributing to our economy, and our democracy.
Bernie Sanders will end the policy of profiting off of our most needy young people. He will return us to the original vision of public higher education as an investment in our democracy, one that will make America more productive, and will reduce inequality. This is especially important for African Americans. With less wealth and income they have been the greatest victims of a regressive educational policy, and will be the biggest beneficiaries of Sanders’ program to eliminate tuition and lower the interest rate on student debt. Simply reducing extortionate interest rates on student debt will save the average African American bachelors degree holder $8,334 over the duration of their loan. Opening the doors of higher education will raise African American incomes and lower their unemployment rates. The Sanders program can accomplish this.
Bernie Sanders would make us a richer and a fairer country. Good policy is making for good politics; the Sanders education program is helping him to win the support of over 80% of young voters. Isn’t it time for all to support Senator Sanders’ higher education program?