- Democratic presidential hopeful Julián Castro earlier this week released an education policy proposal calling for free tuition at public colleges and trade schools, expanding the size and use of Pell Grants, and changing income-based student loan repayment, among other ideas.
- The sweeping plan from Castro, who previously served as the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under the Obama administration and as the mayor of San Antonio, covers higher education and K-12.
- The proposal calls for ending federal student loans and other forms of public support for private for-profit colleges, and it would "ensure oversight" for those that convert to nonprofits. More support for HBCUs is also included.
Castro joins a growing list of Democratic presidential hopefuls to incorporate college affordability into their platforms.
Last month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), announced her own education policy proposal. Like Castro, and several other Democrats, she pitched the idea of free tuition at public colleges. Her plan goes a step further, however, to propose canceling student debt for more than 75% of Americans with loans.
Critics say her free college proposal might unfairly benefit students who choose more expensive institutions or aren't struggling to pay off their loans.
Castro's proposal would not require borrowers to begin repaying their loans until they earn at least 250% of the federal poverty level, with limits on interest accrual for three years. Once they begin payback, borrowers would not pay more than 10% of their monthly income and their remaining balance would be forgiven after 20 years of on-time monthly payments.
The plan echoes a proposal put forth earlier this year by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who suggested automatically deducting student loan repayments from borrowers' paychecks, ensuring they'd pay no more than 10% of their income. The idea got pushback over the risk that the process could complicate repayment for individuals who have several sources of income and could result in people overpaying or underpaying.
Alexander hopes such proposals could roll up into reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which some say could happen this year.
Free college, in particular, has become popular among Democrats as more states and municipalities add their own programs. Early efforts have seen some success in increasing persistence. But experts caution that such initiatives should provide sufficient support for institutions to handle a larger population of students who need more academic and financial aid and also cover students' costs beyond tuition.