Last week, the U.S.A’s 2016 Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, announced a “New College Compact”; a broad $350 billion plan to enable public colleges and universities to provide a debt-free education.

The Presidential hopeful’s New College Compact Program will cap what colleges can charge toward student tuition, meaning that no student should have to borrow money to cover the cost of student fees. As part of the new reforms, marketing in football stadiums, for example, will be banned. Estimates predict the plan will cost $350 billion over the next decade and will pay for itself by “limiting certain tax expenditures for high-income taxpayers.

According to the campaign, Clinton’s plan will hike funding for the Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program from $15 million to $250 million, and will provide grants for childcare centres based on-campus. The boost, her campaign said, would create openings for more than 250,000 children whose parents are students.

She would further create a $1,500 grant for 1 million students as part of the Student Parents in America Raising Kids Program, which assists parents with the cost of things like child care and transport. In order to be eligible, students would need to maintain a 2.5 grade point average, and States will have the power to tailor their own eligibility and application process.

Via Medium: The New College Compact.

The scholarship program is modelled on a similar one Mrs Clinton created as the First Lady of Arkansas; a fund for single parents that has now awarded almost 40,000 single parent scholarships.

Among the Compact’s bright spots is Clinton’s recognition that one of the major reasons for increases in tuition among public institutions since has been the unanimous reduction of financial support by all 50 states. Her grant program, designed to counteract the disintegration of public support, allows states to opt-out, but a “stop-loss” provision will be in place that will not allow states to spend less than they do now on higher education.

The reduction of student loan interest rates, the expectation that aid recipients will engage in part-time work and the expanding Americorps, are more facets of the program that are likely to gain support. The concept of “risk-sharing”, which requires institutions to pay back a percentage of Federal Financial Aid should their students fail to pay, has also gained traction amongst higher education advocates.

A spokesperson for the bill defined it as a “bold transformation of how we would do Higher Education Financing in our country.”, but with some rejoicing that Clinton’s Compact will make education both accessible and affordable, while others argue that the program is yet another expansion of the education status quo we’ve seen a hundred times before, it seems that Clinton’s new bill is set to split the country.

Via Medium: New College Compact.

Many support the view that her plan to “make quality education affordable and available to everyone willing to work for it-without saddling them with decades of debt” could be key to ending the country’s rising credit, as well as its lack of student opportunity.

One College Compact supporter wrote in to the editor of Seacoast Online, saying: “Seeing Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire on Monday speak about higher education was electrifying.

“Finally a real and workable plan for one of the biggest challenges of our time- the out of control cost of college education!

“I had a wonderful student who was not able to devote time to a research experience in my lab because of the many hours he had to work to afford college. This creates a spiral of diminishing opportunities when students don’t get skills and experiences that often lead to well-paying jobs.

“While all Democratic presidential candidates stress the need for more affordable higher education, Hillary Clinton has a plan that can make this aspiration a reality.

“Indeed, cost should not be a barrier to enter college or limit life choices after successful graduation. The plan includes engaging students (working manageable 10 hours a week), families, state and federal governments, as well as colleges and universities.

“Hillary is unique among the presidential candidates in having a plan that can work in the current political climate.”

Clinton has always shown avid support for Obama’s Free Community College proposal, and her New College Compact pushes for low-interest student loans and grants, and offers States incentives to keep tabs on their expenditures. This being the case, the reform would certainly be expected to make higher education accessible to everyone, but many view the program as nothing more than a renovation of government-thought solutions that in the past achieved nothing but increase the country’s debt.

Patrice Lee wrote in the New York Post: “Clinton wants to raise taxes to pay for more federal grants. She wants to add to our national debt by increasing and expanding loan-forgiveness and income-based repayment programs. And she wants to enable more student-debt refinancing- which will save borrowers all of $17 per month over a standard 10-year repayment plan.

“For decades, we’ve been told such government-driven solutions would be the cure for our higher-education ills. And the results? It’s only led to higher college tuition and more student debt.”

Lee goes on to point out that government education programs have a history of contributing to the country’s financial instability. Tuition for a four-year course at a public university has more than doubles in cost since 1995. Furthermore, over the course of ten years, student debt has more than tripled, from 2005’s figure of $363 billion to today’s shocking figure of $1.3 trillion. The U.S.A’s credit card debt currently stands at $901 billion, nowhere near the cost of the country’s student debt.

“But the Government’s growing role in higher education hasn’t just correlated with rising tuitions- it’s causing it. A July report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York demonstrated that each additional dollar in federal financial aid caused a 65-cent hike in tuition.

“In this way, Clinton’s plan to spend another £350 billion on the same policies is like trying to cure your chicken pox by scratching it with a corrugated knife- it may feel good at first, but will only make your situation worse. Students end up paying for it either way, whether through higher tuition costs or higher taxes later in life to pay off the massive new government entitlement.”

While Clinton’s effort to loosen the noose of debt that burdens students in America is commendable, there are a number of risks tied to the provision of a “free” education. If students can not identify the value of their qualification, they may not be willing to commit to their studies, and this could result in America’s degree programs being valued accordingly.

As Casey Whittington writes in My Sanantonio: “[Clinton’s] plan will hurt workforce development and increase the number of overqualified coffee baristas by removing the incentive to chase a high-paying job.”

With half the country praising Clinton’s College Compact while the other voices their justified concern, how will Clinton’s proposed education reforms affect her campaign and the overall presidential outcome? Is her program destined to prove the concept of “free” education is both practical and functional, or is it doomed to further alienate the country’s student population, and sink its economy deeper into its already overwhelming debt?

With countries like the UK cracking down on student visas, many international students are favouring institutions in countries such as the U.S.A, Canada and Australia. If Clinton’s College Compact was to alter the American system for higher education, how would this impact the country’s influx of international students? Will a decline in America’s domestic student fees have a positive or negative impact on students from overseas?

Image via APImages.

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