Hillary Clinton outlines ambitious $350 billion agenda for higher education

More than just debt-free college

Kristin Tyndall, EAB Daily BriefingKristin Tyndall, associate editor

Hillary Clinton, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president, outlined her plan for higher education Monday.

Clinton's comprehensive, four-year agenda includes much more than student debt reform: She also takes on state funding for higher education, student success, accountability, accreditation, college access, tuition growth, and more.

Pushing states to re-invest

Clinton's plan encourages states to re-invest in higher education by setting aside $175 billion in grants for states that increase college appropriations.

However, to get the money, states and schools also would have to create four-year degrees that students can afford without student loans and slow down tuition growth. It looks like it would be up to the states and colleges how to do this—and not every public college may have to participate in the program.

Public colleges and universities that enroll more low- and middle-income students will also mean more grant money for their state.   

Focus on student success

To receive the grants, colleges would not be required to maintain a minimum graduation rate. However, they would be required to show the federal government how they will improve their graduation rates, a senior policy advisor told Libby Nelson at Vox.

What can we learn about student success from first year GPA?

Clinton's agenda also calls for stricter accountability measures that could be controversial among higher education leaders. The plan suggests that colleges should be required to publish their graduation rates, alumni earnings information, and alumni debt statistics. Clinton further recommends penalizing schools for low graduation or high default rates.

Financial aid reform

Clinton's plan would also make changes to existing federal financial aid programs, including:

  • Specifying that debt-free degree options may not include Pell Grant funds;
  • Lowering—but not eliminating—expected family contributions; and
  • Allowing current student loan holders to refinance.

Paying for the plan

The total cost of the plan is estimated to be $350 billion over 10 years. Clinton proposes covering that cost by "closing tax loopholes and expenditures for the most fortunate," which could make it a tough sell in a Republican-led Congress.

The plan is so comprehensive because Clinton wanted to tackle several drivers of college affordability simultaneously, writes Nelson. Both parties are increasingly worried about college affordability, Robert Shireman, adviser to Presidents Obama and Bill Clinton on education, told Patrick Healy of the New York Times. Clinton's strategists hope that focus on affordability could help her plan gain ground in Congress (Nelson, Vox, 8/10; Healy, New York Times, 8/10; Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 8/10).

What do you think about Clinton's plan? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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