Expert calls Bernie Sanders's plan for higher ed 'perfectly awful'

Higher education should be encouraged to innovate, says expert

Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has a bold plan to make college tuition free.

Unfortunately, the plan happens to be "perfectly awful," argues Kevin Carey, director of education policy at New America, in a post for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Why are all the presidential candidates talking about higher ed?

Carey praises Sanders's goal to make college more affordable. But he also expressed concern that oft-overlooked mandates attached to the plan would end up hurting the industry broadly.

The Sanders plan would require institutions to:

  • Limit use of non-tenure or tenure-track faculty to 25% of instruction;
  • Direct state and federal funding toward academic and faculty support; and
  • Spend no state or federal funding on merit-based aid, non-academic facilities, or administrator salaries.

"In other words, states would be required to embrace and the federal government would be obligated to enforce a professor-centered vision of how to operate a university: tenure for everyone, nice offices all around, and the administrators and coaches can go pound sand," Carey warns.

Stifling innovation

Carey acknowledges that tenure "is an important part of vital academic freedom." But he also says tenure is "unwieldy" and can reduce accountability and innovation in the classroom.

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By involving the federal government so intimately in administering tenure, Carey says tenure has the potential to become burdensome and counterproductive.

Carey's main concern is not that the Sanders plan will pass—something he says is very unlikely—but that other candidates seeking to address middle-class anxiety around higher education will propose something similar.

Hillary Clinton: I support free community college, too

Instead, he encourages them to think of more innovative ways to expand access to higher education. "There are many ways to reach that goal, some based on a kind of organization that doesn't even exist yet," Carey writes (Carey, Chronicle of Higher Education, 7/6).

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