Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton proposes that all public colleges and universities be made tuition-free for students from families with incomes of up to $85,000 initially, rising to $125,000 by 2021. Clinton also promises a three-month moratorium for all federal student loan borrowers on repaying their debt, during which time borrowers would get help refinancing their loans or moving into income-driven repayment plans. According to her campaign, 80 percent of American families would be able to avoid tuition at public colleges and universities under the plan. This is a revised approach from what Clinton first proposed that sought differentiation from rival Bernie Sanders by not promising to make higher education free (or even debt-free) for everyone. The cost of the revised program is not yet clear but would be fully funded, according to her campaign, through closing additional high-income tax loopholes -- focusing on loopholes available especially to Wall Street money managers, like hedge funds and private equity firms.
While the prospects of the plan becoming a reality seem slight even if she wins the presidency, particularly if Republicans remain in control of the House and Senate, the idea of a substantially increased federal role in funding public higher education raises important questions regarding how it would work, how it would benefit students, and how it would influence and shape the financing and financial aid policies of public colleges and universities. Similar questions regarding the role of the federal government in promoting access to college and socioeconomic mobility accompanied debates in the late 1960s, including proposals for direct federal aid to public universities and colleges versus expanding federal student aid directly to individual students. The result was the establishment of what is today Pell Grants, Stafford Loans and similar programs as the primary means of promoting access and funding higher education by the federal government, besides funding agencies like the NSF for academic research. The panel will discuss the merits of Clinton’s current proposal and, if implemented, how it might work in California.
Robert Shireman is a senior fellow at The Century Foundation working on education policy with a focus on for-profit college accountability, quality assurance, and consumer protections. He served in the Bill Clinton White House as a Senior Policy Advisor to the National Economic Council and later for the Obama Administration as deputy undersecretary in the Department of Education. Since his first education policy job in 1989, Shireman has played key roles in a wide variety of higher education finance, access, quality, and governance issues. He shepherded the evolution of the nation’s income-based student loan repayment system from its initial adoption in 1992 to its expansion and improvement by President Barack Obama. He organized the federal response to emerging signs of predatory for-profit career training in 2009, leading to a widely discussed set of regulatory reforms and enforcement actions. Shireman’s analysis of local needs in California prompted changes in the funding formula for that state’s community colleges and he worked to improve the ethnic and economic diversity of California’s private colleges. He led an effort that significantly simplified the process of applying for federal college aid and pressed for and ultimately won the elimination of costly middlemen from the federal loan programs so that more grant aid could be made available to low-income students. Working inside and outside of government, in California and in Washington, D.C., Shireman’s successes earned him Money magazine “money hero” status for his work on college affordability. For his battles with banks and other special interests, the public interest law firm Public Advocates honored him with a Voice of Conscience award. Currently, in addition to being a part of The Century Foundation’s education team, Shireman serves on the board of uAspire, a national nonprofit that helps low-income students find quality, affordable college options.
Donald E. Heller is Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs and a professor of education at the University of San Francisco. His teaching and research is in the areas of educational economics, public policy, and finance, with a primary focus on issues of college access, choice, and success for low-income and minority students. He has consulted on higher education policy issues with university systems and policymaking organizations in California, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Washington, Washington DC, and West Virginia, and has testified in front of Congressional committees, state legislatures, and in federal court cases as an expert witness. Prior to his appointment in January 2016, he was Dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University. Earlier appointments included Director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education and professor of education and senior scientist at The Pennsylvania State University, and assistant professor of Education at the University of Michigan. Before his academic career, he spent a decade as an information technology manager at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Heller has published over 175 articles, book chapters and other publications, and his research has appeared in scholarly journals including the Journal of Higher Education, Review of Higher Education, Educational Policy, and The Journal of Student Financial Aid. He has been interviewed by and/or has published opinion columns in media including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, Business Week, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Times Higher Education, The Daily Telegraph, National Public Radio, CNN Headline News, and Marketplace Radio. He is editor or co-editor of six books, including: Student Financing of Higher Education: A Comparative Perspective (with C. Callender, Routledge, 2013), The States and Public Higher Education Policy: Affordability, Access, and Accountability (Johns Hopkins University Press, second edition, 2011), and Generational Shockwaves and the Implications for Higher Education (with M. d’Ambrosio, Edward Elgar, 2009).
John Aubrey Douglass is Senior Research Fellow - Public Policy and Higher Education at the Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE) at the University of California - Berkeley. He is the author of The New Flagship University: Changing the Paradigm from Global Ranking to National Relevancy (Palgrave Macmillan), The Conditions for Admissions (Stanford Press 2007), The California Idea and American Higher Education (Stanford University Press, 2000; published in Chinese in 2008), and with Jud King and Irwin Feller (ed) Globalization’s Muse: Universities and Higher Education Systems in a Changing World (Public Policy Press, 2009). Among the research projects he co-founded is the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) Consortium – a group of major research universities in the US and internationally, with members in China, Brazil, South Africa, the Netherlands and Russia. He is also the editor of the Center's Research and Occasional Paper Series (ROPS), sits on the editorial board of international higher education journals in the UK, China, and Russia, and serves on the international advisory boards of a number of higher education institutes. His recent CSHE ROPS with Patrick Lapid is entitled “College Affordability and the Emergence of Progressive Tuition Models: Are New Financial Aid Policies at Major Public Universities Working?