Courting millennials, Clinton promises free tuition

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PHILADELPHIA — Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton made it clear this week during a campaign stop at Temple University just how desperate she is for the millennial vote.

In an about-face from her proposal released in the summer of 2015, Clinton on Monday announced she and former rival U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) have come up with a plan that “makes public college tuition free for working families and debt-free for everyone.”

The quid pro quo for that millennial freebie?  Their support.

“I need you,” Clinton told a crowd consisting mostly of Temple students at one point on Monday during a 30-minute stump speech. “I need you as partners — not just for winning this election — but for driving real change.”

The $350 billion college affordability plan Clinton hatched in 2015, when the Sanders movement was in its infancy, made no promises of free college. A little more than a year later, and with the election less than two months away, Clinton’s new plan borrows heavily from Sanders’s original plan.

“As you know better than most,” Clinton said to a crowd of mostly students, “tuition keeps going through the roof and debt keeps piling up.”

“I understand that Temple was founded to diversify, democratize and widen the reach of higher education. That is still a vital goal. So I worked with Bernie Sanders on a plan.”

What Sanders proposed

Sanders’ original plan, according to his campaign, proposed funding free tuition “by imposing a Robin Hood tax on Wall Street.”

Specifically, Sanders had called for the creation of a “Wall Street speculation fee” on investment houses, hedge funds and “other speculators.”

The nitty-gritty details consisted of imposing a 0.5 percent fee on stock trades, or 50 cents for every $100 worth of stock, a 0.1 percent fee on bonds and 0.005 percent fee on derivatives.

“It has been estimated that this provision could raise hundreds of billions a year which could be used not only to make tuition free at public colleges and universities in this country, it could also be used to create millions of jobs and rebuild the middle class of this country,” Sanders stated in his policy paper.

Sanders’s proposal sought to provide $47 billion per year to states, which he said would eliminate undergraduate tuition and fees at public colleges and universities. He pegged the total tuition at public colleges and universities at rough $70 billion annually. Under his plan, the federal government would cover 67 percent of tuition and fee costs, with the states picking up the remaining 33 percent. He also proposed a checklist of sorts for states to adhere to in order to remain eligible for the federal cash windfall, specifically aimed at “protecting students, ensuring quality and reducing ballooning costs.”

Sanders’s proposal was not entirely new, however.

The idea to impose a sort of financial transactions tax dates back to 1936, when the English economist John Maynard Keynes proposed it as a way to discourage speculative trading. Flash-forward to 1989, when then-Harvard University economics professor Lawrence Summers penned a brief making “a cautious case for a securities transaction tax.”

In later years, Summers would distance himself from that idea. In his book Confidence Men, former Wall Street Journal reporter determined that Summers, during his role as President Barack Obama’s National Economics Council director, effectively “blocked” any efforts by the administration to enact such a tax.

In March, University of Massachusetts-Amherst economics professor Robert Pollin spearheaded the release of a policy paper that explored Sanders’s financial transaction tax proposal.

In the paper, Pollin claims that the Sanders proposal “can net approximately $300 billion per year in tax revenues.”

Pollin later published an op-ed in The Nation magazine, entitled “Bernie Sanders will make the economy great again,” in which he argues that all of Sanders’s economic proposals “are grounded in solid economic reasoning and evidence.”

The Tax Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank that bills itself as a non-partisan entity, claims the policy would net far less — $52 billion annually — because it would cause fewer transactions to be made.

What Hillary proposed, and what others are saying

Clinton’s revised higher ed proposal, released in July, calls for offering free tuition at public colleges an universities to students whose families earn $85,000 a year or less, with the cap increasing to $125,000 by 2021. Students would be required to work at least 10 hours per week to be eligible.

Clinton claims that the proposal would be successfully financed by federal grants and matched by state contributions.

William Grigsby, a retired University of Pennsylvania city and regional planning professor, described Clinton’s proposal in his Sept. 1 Wall Street Journal op-ed as the result of the candidate “buckling to pressure on the left.”

Bloomberg View’s Paula Dwyer summarized it this way:

“Liberals see it as ‘Bernie lite,’ an attempt to court Bernie Sanders’ young voters by offering more government help to students and indebted graduates”

Grigsby argued that Clinton’s plan offers “false hope to millions of future students,” because in its current form several states will surely opt-out.  Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has already gone on record saying he’ll do just that.

Other critics of Clinton’s plan, according to a report, include private colleges. The report quoted Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, one of about 1,600 private American colleges. McGuire told Politico her private women’s college would be “gravely at risk” under Clinton’s proposal, since Trinity Washington serves a “mostly low-income population.”

“We’re going to ruin some of the places where low-income students get the best education are most likely successful,” McGuire said.

Is it working?

Clearly, Clinton’s new-found commitment to free tuition is aimed at seducing millennial voters.  But according to recent poll results, it hasn’t helped raise her standing among younger voters.

For Clinton, the most troubling sign came from a recent Quinnipiac University poll that showed her losing support among voters aged 18 to 34 —  a whopping 17 percent in only one month.

The results also showed that most of that support has flowed to Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, who gained 13 percent from the group within the last month.

A report by the liberal news site pokes fun at Clinton’s efforts to appeal to younger voters, which the site notes showed up in droves to support Obama in 2008 and in 2012:

Hillary Clinton is worried about the kids. The Democratic candidate kicked off the week with a push to win over millennial voters who haven’t lined up behind her candidacy, penning an op-ed on the millennial-focused website Mic and hosting a rally aimed at millennials in Philadelphia on Monday. But the gist of her appeal at the rally was essentially the same as her broader campaign message: Elect me because President Donald Trump is too terrifying to fathom.

Clinton in her op-ed, titled “Here’s what millennials have taught me,” heaps high praise on the age group.

“Your generation is the most open, diverse and entrepreneurial generation in our country’s history,” she wrote. “And if we work together to take on the barriers that are holding you back and unleash your full potential, that won’t just improve your lives — it’ll make our entire country stronger.”