Elizabeth Warren, as Clio Chang recently wrote at Jezebel, is “running as a candidate who says she can see the country clearly”—and more than any other candidate, she has bold and ambitious plans to tackle the twin evils of unchecked corporate greed and government retrenchment. She has put out plans for universal childcare, for taxing the ultra-wealthy, for protecting our public lands. And on Monday, she released another ambitious but sorely needed proposal: she wants to cancel the vast majority of Americans’ student loan debt and make public colleges free. She is—again—the first of the crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates to release a detailed proposal addressing the $1.5 trillion student loan debt crisis.
Student loan debt is an issue that Warren has worked on for years, and she has consistently called for relief for people who are crushed by debt. “The enormous student debt burden weighing down our economy isn’t the result of laziness or irresponsibility,” Warren wrote in a Medium post announcing her plan. “It’s the result of a government that has consistently put the interests of the wealthy and well-connected over the interests of working families.”
This issue is personal for Warren. In her Medium post announcing her proposal, she wrote of how she was able to attend the University of Houston for $50 per semester, an amount she could afford “on a part-time waitressing salary.”
“Higher education opened a million doors for me. It’s how the daughter of a janitor in a small town in Oklahoma got to become a teacher, a law school professor, a U.S. Senator, and eventually, a candidate for President of the United States,” she wrote. “Today, it’s virtually impossible for a young person to find that kind of opportunity.”
We got into this crisis because state governments and the federal government decided that instead of treating higher education like our public school system — free and accessible to all Americans — they’d rather cut taxes for billionaires and giant corporations and offload the cost of higher education onto students and their families. The student debt crisis is the direct result of this failed experiment.
To get out of this crisis, she’s proposing a massive debt jubilee. “The first step in addressing this crisis is to deal head-on with the outstanding debt that is weighing down millions of families and should never have been required in the first place,” she wrote. “That’s why I’m calling for something truly transformational — the cancellation of up to $50,000 in student loan debt for 42 million Americans.” According to Warren, her plan would completely erase the student loan debt of three out of four Americans who currently owe money. It would cancel debt up to $50,000 for everyone whose household income is under $100,000, and smaller but still significant amounts for people who make up to $250,000.
And she doesn’t want to stop by simply wiping the slate clean of student debt—Warren wants to, as she wrote, “ensure that we never have another student debt crisis again.”
To do that, she’s calling for universal free public college, with the federal government helping states foot the cost. A public college education, she wrote, must be thought of like K-12 education: “a basic public good that should be available to everyone with free tuition and zero debt at graduation.”
Her proposal, it’s worth noting, also includes a significant investment in historically black colleges and universities as well as steps to ensure that colleges and universities are properly serving students of color. Noting that “Black and Latinx students are underrepresented in four-year public colleges and overrepresented in community colleges and for-profit colleges,” Warren is also proposing a ban on for-profit colleges from receiving federal funds.
According to Warren’s own analysis, the total cost of her plan is roughly $1.25 trillion over a ten-year period, which she argued can be covered by the revenue generated from her proposal to tax the ultra-wealthy.
With her plan to cancel student loan debt and make public universities free, Warren is yet again making the bet that her ambitious ideas can drive the conversation during the Democratic primary, and win over voters. “We can make big structural change and create new opportunities for all Americans,” she wrote. It is, like all of her proposals, an appealing vision.