"It is time to build on the progressive movement of the past and make public colleges and universities tuition-free in the United States," presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wrote in an op-ed on Thursday, saying such a move would "be the driver of a new era of American prosperity."
"If our economy is to be strong, we need the best-educated workforce in the world. We won’t achieve that if, every year, hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college while millions more leave school deeply in debt."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
"In my view, education is essential for personal and national well-being," Sanders declared, elaborating on a key aspect of his populist platform. "We live in a highly competitive, global economy, and if our economy is to be strong, we need the best-educated workforce in the world. We won’t achieve that if, every year, hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college while millions more leave school deeply in debt."
In his call to make higher education free for all, Sen. Sanders (I-Vt.), who is seeking the White House as a Democrat, noted that public colleges and universities are tuition-free in countries including Finland, Denmark, Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Mexico. "They're free throughout Germany, too," he wrote, "and not just for Germans or Europeans but to international citizens as well."
"Governments in these countries understand what an important investment they are making," he continued, "not just in the individuals who are able to acquire knowledge and skills but for the societies these students will serve as teachers, architects, scientists, entrepreneurs and more."
Sanders has already been beating the free tuition drum on the campaign trail. This week in Iowa, for example, he told a crowd at William Penn University: "Generally speaking, to make it into a good middle class job today, you need a college degree. So some of us think that if, as a nation, we have determined that free public education historically has been from kindergarten through high school, that in the year 2015 now is the time to extend that idea to colleges and universities." The line drew enthusiastic applause.
Earlier this year, the democratic socialist from Vermont proposed legislation in the U.S. Senate to cover tuition costs for qualified students at public colleges and universities by imposing a tax on Wall Street transactions by investment houses, hedge funds, and other speculators.
Notably, Vice President Joe Biden appears to be in Sanders' corner when it comes to the issue of higher education costs.
"We need to commit to 16 years of free public education for all our children," Biden said in his speech Wednesday announcing he would not run for president. "We all know that 12 years of public education is not enough. As a nation, let's make the same commitment to a college education today that we made to a high school education a hundred years ago."
In a statement, Sanders highlighted their overlap, saying of Biden: "He understands the need to rebuild the middle class; and to address income and wealth inequality, a corrupt campaign finance system, climate change, racial justice, immigration reform and the need for publicly-funded higher education."
Sanders told Jimmy Kimmel about his plan in an appearance on Wednesday night: