Chelsea Clinton pitches college affordability at WSU

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

The day before the Michigan presidential primary, Chelsea Clinton stumped for her mother, Hillary Clinton, by appearing at a Wayne State University roundtable on college affordability.

Clinton said Monday that her mother’s plan to provide access to higher education differs in important ways from that of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton’s Democratic primary opponent, who has promised to make college free for all.

“Families who have done well in our country should still continue to pay tuition for their students to go to college,” Chelsea Clinton said, explaining her mother’s plan. “For those who haven’t yet done well yet, for lower-class families, even middle-class families, their children should be able to go to public universities tuition-free. Everyone should be able to graduate debt-free.”

Clinton also said that her mother believes that no one should have to make a professional choice just to service their debt, so she proposes that students who have debt now should repay their loans at no more than 10 percent of their income for 20 years, then after 20 years the remainder should be forgiven.

As for free college, Clinton said her mother believes that lower- and middle-class families should have access to higher education at no cost. At the same time, she said the federal and state governments should contribute funds to public universities, which in turn should hold the line on tuition.

“Families who have done well still should pay into the system partly to fund the ability of families that haven’t done as well yet to be able to send their students to school tuition-free,” Clinton said. “She believes it will not be as expensive for the system. She also believes the federal government should support public universities at the state and local level. In return for that public support from the federal government, universities also need to worry about not increasing their tuition. They need to commit to capping their tuition because if tuition keeps going up under anyone’s plan, the cost would become unsustainable.”

But Dominic Nanni — a WSU graduate student from Macomb Township who has racked up $60,000 in student loan debt — said there are many ways to make college free and sustainable, such as increasing capital gains taxes, closing loopholes and making education a priority.

“How important are you valuing education if you are not willing to put the work into making sure everyone has access to education,” said Nanni, who supports Sanders.

But Sanders comes from a different time and perspective while Hillary’s plan reins in costs and helps today’s students with debt, said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who appeared with Chelsea Clinton at Wayne State.

“What Bernie is saying is I went to free college when I was a Brooklyn college student and we should have free college again,” Weingarten said. “Nowhere in America has free college. Take New York — it was unsustainable and then there wasn’t an investment in college. So what Bernie is promising is something that became unsustainable without a way of paying for it.”

And Hillary Clinton is saying, according to Weingarten, that society needs to focus on current problems, such as a cumulative $1 trillion student loan debt and make sure college is affordable for lower-income families.

“It is a much more holistic plan that makes college great again and creates a real level of opportunity,” Weingarten said, “as opposed to a soundbeat that every college student really wants (but) doesn’t have any realistic chance of getting through.”