We should all be excited about Elizabeth Warren’s college plan

| Staff Writer

I’m sorry to be doing this. It’s April 2019, and we’re all far more concerned about finals than something a 2020 candidate has proposed. But here at Washington University, we’re a university—I think it’s fairly uncontroversial to say that—and the most recent proposal from presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren is directly relevant to us.

The plan is meant to address the intersecting problems of crippling student debt and inequality in higher education. It would eliminate $50,000 of debt for households with incomes under $100,000 per year, and progressively phase out the relief until it reached households with $250,000 annual incomes. (You might notice that that figure, $250,000, is pretty close to the annual family income of the average Wash. U. student.)

As usual, purported fears about the effect of these debt cancellations are generally overblown. As most student loan debt is held by the federal government, the plan would not—as right-wing commentator and worst-guy-in-your-freshman-GroupMe Ben Shapiro worried on Twitter— “screw lenders.” (Though one might be inclined to see that more as a drawback than an advantage; I’m not here to judge.) The government would knock this one asset off the books as just a spending program, which would be paid for by the senator’s proposed tax on assets over $50 million. The plan also addresses privately held debt, and from what I can tell, the process by which the Warren administration works with both banks and borrowers to resolve debts won’t be “screwing” anybody.

And debt cancellation isn’t the only aspect of the proposal. It would fully fund tuition at public colleges and universities, phase out federal support for for-profit colleges and set aside $50 billion for historically black and minority-serving institutions.

Most Wash. U. students wouldn’t be the ones who directly benefit from this plan, but we should embrace it because, as much as we may care about racial and economic inequality, they’re built into institutions like ours. We’re perhaps best known nationally as the school with the worst socioeconomic diversity measures in the country; we’re a part of the problem this proposal is confronting. Warren’s plan seeks to fundamentally change the way we think about college and the systems of inequity within our society that it too often perpetuates.

It’s embarrassing that so many Wash. U. students come from privileged backgrounds, and it’s embarrassing that we’re one of the few elite schools that can’t offer need-blind admissions. With federal funding for public schools, increased competition from our state-funded peer institutions will hopefully give the administration, which has only recently signaled a desire to become need-blind “in the future,” a bit of a kick in the pants. If anything like what Warren is proposing becomes law, we’ll all be better off.

Of course, you may be proud to be a part of the one-percent; you might be satisfied that our university caters primarily to the wealthy, and I guess then you won’t be too excited about the notion of college becoming less of a financial burden. That’s certainly also an opinion one can have.

But for those of us who see our inequality as a weakness, Warren’s initiative presents an opportunity. And we should all be excited about it.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.