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Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

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Published June 12, 2024

Kerry’s education plan is worth a vote

A proposal for affordable higher education gives students a good reason to vote this fall.

College students are no strangers to the mounting costs of higher education. While public universities have experienced double-digit tuition hikes in recent years, funding for Pell Grants and other aid to students has not kept pace. It is refreshing, then, to hear a presidential candidate advance creative strategies to make college more affordable for more students.

Sen. John Kerry highlighted his tour of U.S. colleges last week with a proposal to offer up to 500,000 young people four years of free college tuition in return for two years of national service. Campaign promises are often bandied about with little regard for funding or implementation. But Kerry’s plan offers more than rhetoric and should give college students concerned with the rising education costs a clear reason to vote this fall.

The Kerry plan envisions up to 500,000 young people over the next decade involved in two years of inner-city education programs, local environmental initiatives and a host of other public works programs. In return, volunteers would receive four-year tuition grants based on the average in-state tuition rates of public universities. The estimated $13 billion needed to fund the program would come from restructuring the way private banks offer loans through federal student loan programs.

Critics say the current system guarantees banks fat profits at students’ expense. Interest rates on student loans and the rates banks receive from the federal government are currently set by law in a political process that offers the industry a wealth of opportunities to lobby Congress for higher rates and heftier profits. By opening that process to competitive bidding, Kerry argues, banks would compete for federally guaranteed loans and rates would fall, freeing up resources to fund his new initiative.

Freeing up those resources will not be easy – pushing such legislation through a Republican-controlled Congress is sobering. Indeed, a former official from the Department of Treasury in the Clinton administration, who authored a study examining the issue, recently said that “no one wants to take on the banks.” Taking on those banks might be easier if students flock to the polls in November.

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