As Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders move to make free college a key piece of the Democratic platform, officials at some public colleges are hopeful that at the very least the effort will keep the issue of cost in the spotlight.
“I believe it’s a movement that’s not going to just die with the election,” said Kenneth Witmer Jr., dean of West Chester University’s College of Education and Social Work. “I think we’ll see pressure – from both those who want to go to college and those who came out owing a lot of money – on politicians to respond to this.”
Sen. Sanders, of Vermont, made free college tuition a rallying cry during his campaign and attracted support from many college students. Earlier this month, Clinton, who just won the Democratic nomination for president, announced her plan to offer free tuition by 2021 to students from families with annual incomes of less than $125,000 who attend public colleges in their state. Her announcement came after she met with Sanders last month and the two strategized on how to keep college costs at the forefront of the general election debate.
Speaking at the Democratic National Convention Monday, Sanders said although he and Clinton had sparred over plans to make college affordable in the past, they had agreed on the plan with the $125,000 income target, which he noted covers 83 percent of the population. His remarks again put student debt in the national spotlight.
“It certainly feels like the first time in my lifetime that higher education affordability and access has taken such a prominent position in a presidential primary process,” said Mary Cathryn Ricker, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, who was on a panel in Philadelphia this week on student debt.