Why one presidential candidate says tuition should be free

Calls higher education a 'right'

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) announced Thursday that he will run for president—and also reaffirmed his commitment to free tuition at public colleges and universities.

In his announcement, Sanders called for making "college tuition in public universities and public colleges free." He praised the higher education systems in Germany and Denmark for "tap[ping] the intellectual capabilities of young people."

"Throughout this country, young people—bright, young, able kids—cannot afford to go to college. And others are leaving school deeply in debt," he said.

Sanders has previously endorsed only two years of free tuition.

In February, he outlined a plan for making the first two years of higher education free at public institutions. He argued that the federal government should match state spending on higher education—an investment of about $18 billion per year—would allow tuition to be cut by 55%, enough to cover those first two years.

In the same speech, he also criticized the current student loan system and argued that student debtors should be able to refinance for lower interest rates.

In a March interview with HuffPost Live, Sanders said "higher education should be a right," although he specified "not for everybody" but for "people who have the ability, people who have the desire, because that makes our country stronger."

If elected, Sanders would be the oldest president and the first Jewish president in history. His wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders, actually has robust experience in higher education, having served as president of Burlington College from 2004 to 2011. However, some question financial decisions she made in that role.

Though Sanders will run as a Democrat, becoming the first challenger to Hillary Clinton for the party's bid, though he is registered as an Independent and calls himself a Democratic Socialist.

Sanders is considered an underdog in the race. In in his announcement, Sanders acknowledged his political and financial challenges, but said he is "in this race to win."

"I think people should be a little bit careful underestimating me," he adds.

Sanders is planning a kickoff event for his campaign in late May in Burlington, Vermont (Rappeport, New York Times, 4/29; Sullivan, Forbes, 4/30; Reilly, "HuffPost Live," Huffington Post, 4/8; Fain, Inside Higher Ed, 5/1).

The takeaway: Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), the latest person to announce a presidential bid, wants to make at least two years of tuition free at public institutions.

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