A Consensus on Free College at the Democratic Debate

November 14, 2015

Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and socialist organizer-scholar Keely Mullen are on the same page about raising taxes to make college free for everybody, a new SuperCut shows.

Mullen, a representative of the #MillionStudentMarch protest movement, appeared on Fox Business Network on Thursday to share her group’s "demands": free college tuition, student debt relief, and a $15 minimum wage for campus workers.

Mullen advocated 90 percent taxes on the top one percent of income earners to pay for these programs. As Fox Business host Neil Cavuto pointed out, even a 90 percent income tax rate on the top one percent would be insufficient to fund #MillionStudentMarch’s programs for long because it would create a disincentive to work and an incentive for the wealthy to leave the country. Mullen responded that the rich should be held "accountable" for leaving the country instead of giving 90 percent of their income to the state.

Mullen’s interview has drawn its share of scorn, but her plan for free college and tax hikes is quite similar to those offered by the actual Democratic nominees for president.

Frontrunner Hillary Clinton is offering a college compact that would pay for every person in the United States to attend a four-year, in-state college, virtually for free. Clinton’s plan would force college lenders to take a loss on existing debt so that graduates can pay off their loans more quickly. The plan would cost "in the range of" $350 billion over a decade, to be paid for by the rich, according to Clinton’s website.

"I know we can afford it, because we’re going to make the wealthy pay for it," Clinton said of the sweeping programs she wants to enact if elected president.

The higher education plan offered by socialist insurgent Bernie Sanders is virtually identical to the demands of #MillionStudentMarch. This is unsurprising, as a number of Bernie booster groups like College Students for Bernie and Millennials for Bernie are listed as supporters of #MillionStudentMarch. Sanders wants to pay for his free college plan by taxing financial transactions and the middle class in addition to the rich.

Below are the Democratic candidates’ choicest quotes from the debate about how they will raise taxes to make college free for everybody.


Well, let me address college affordability, because I have a plan that I think will really zero in on what the problems are. First, all the 40 million Americans who currently have student debt will be able to refinance their debt to a low interest rate.  That will save thousands of dollars for people who are now struggling under this cumbersome, burdensome college debt.

As a young student in Nevada said to me, the hardest thing about going to college should not be paying for it.  So then we have to make it more affordable.  How do we make it more affordable?  My plan would enable anyone to go to a public college or university tuition free. You would not have to borrow money for tuition.

But I do believe - and maybe it's because I worked when I went through college; I worked when I went through law school - I think it's important for everybody to have some part of getting this accomplished.  That's why I call it a compact. But, yes, I would like students to work 10 hours a week in order to make it possible for them to afford their education.  And I want colleges to get their costs down.  They are outrageously high in what they're charging.

We should not be paralyzed—we should not be paralyzed by the Republicans and their constant refrain, "big government this, big government that," that except for what they want to impose on the American people.  I know we can afford it, because we're going to make the wealthy pay for it.  That is the way to get it done.


But the only way we can get things done is by having millions of people coming together. If we want free tuition at public colleges and universities, millions of young people are going to have to demand it

And by the way, I want Wall Street now to help kids in this country go to college, public colleges and universities, free with a Wall Street speculation tax.

I pay for my program, by the way, through a tax on Wall Street speculation, which will not only make public colleges and universities tuition-free, it will substantially lower interest rates on college debt, a major crisis in this country.