- Speaking at the University of Iowa on Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) called for a "revolution" in higher ed funding, saying that addressing rising tuition and student debt is both an economic and moral necessity.
- Sanders wants the U.S. higher education system to model itself after nations that offer heavy subsidies for tuition — or no tuition at all.
- According to Sanders, the $65 billion students and families paid to higher ed institutions in tuition and fees could be cut in half if the federal government earmarks $18 billion a year for a matching fund for states.
The Iowa City Press-Citizen notes that the $18 billion proposed by Sanders, a potential presidential contender, is half of the amount President Barack Obama's budget suggests for increasing defense spending.
While the model Sanders is proposing probably isn't likely to come to fruition in the current political climate, he isn't the first to propose that the U.S. follow suit with nations that do fully subsidize higher ed, and he probably won't be the last. Additionally, his call comes at a time when higher ed is facing a quickly changing business model due to factors like Obama's push for free community college and the potential that free online courses like MOOCs could replace the need for students to enroll in large gen-ed lecture hall courses — a major source of income for many four-year institutions when compared to higher-level courses with lower enrollment. On top of that, traditional higher ed faces increasing competition from alternative credentialing programs that offer shorter-term commitments for high-demand STEM skills.
Add in state and federal funding cuts made since the 2008 recession and it's easy to see why Sanders' plan could potentially be music to the ears of those at many an institution.