Buttigieg, Sanders and Warren Debate: Free College for Some or for All?

Notably, Mr. Buttigieg and his advisers are making the sort of populist argument — why should the government spend taxpayer dollars to help millionaires? — that we more often hear from Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren.

“I’m all for gathering tax revenue from millionaires and billionaires,” Mr. Buttigieg told reporters in Birmingham, Ala., on Wednesday. “I’m skeptical of spending it on millionaires and billionaires.”

His plan would make public colleges and universities free for families earning less than $100,000 a year and reduce tuition on a sliding scale for families earning $100,000 to $150,000 a year. He also says he would increase Pell grants to help low-income students with housing and transportation costs. His full plan is here.

Mr. Sanders, whose 2016 campaign brought free college into mainstream political discussion, wants to “eliminate tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities, tribal colleges, community colleges, trade schools and apprenticeship programs.” His full plan, which would also cancel the nation’s $1.6 trillion of student debt, is here.

Ms. Warren’s proposal is similar: It would make all two- and four-year public colleges free, eliminating both tuition and fees. She would also cancel most, but not all, student debt, up to $50,000 per person. Her full plan is here.

(Mr. Buttigieg says he “will soon release details to address student debt burdens.”)

A number of other candidates have also called for some level of free or subsidized higher education. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the leader in national polls of the Democratic primary, has proposed free tuition at two-year community colleges but would not eliminate tuition at four-year institutions.

Some candidates have wrapped their free-tuition proposals into larger education platforms, making it difficult to directly compare the cost of every competing plan. But to give a general sense of the scale of a universal free-tuition system, Mr. Sanders estimates that his would cost “at least $48 billion per year.”

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