Clinton is proposing to send billions of dollars to states to fund their public colleges as long as they agree to a series of steps that would keep tuition low. In participating states, a student's parents would still be required to contribute some amount of money (dependent on the family's income) and the student would be expected to work 10 hours a week to help pay for school. Students would also pay for books, housing and other expenses, so Clinton's proposal falls short of the universal "debt-free" college proposed by many liberal advocates. Still, the rest of students' tuition would be state-funded, thereby eliminating the need to take out loans for tuition itself. And under this system, the millions of students who receive Pell Grants could use them to offset some non-tuition expenses, so that bloc of students could graduate with little out-of-pocket college cost and no debt.
The contrast between the two major parties isn't altogether flattering for Republicans: while GOP officials fight among themselves about what to do with their Donald Trump problem, leading Democratic presidential candidates unveil serious policy proposals.
Yesterday, for example, NBC's Perry Bacon Jr. had a good report on Hillary Clinton's new higher-ed plan, which the Democratic frontrunner is calling the "New College Compact."
"Under my plan, tuition will be affordable for every family," Clinton said at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire. "Students should never have to take out a loan to pay for tuition at their state's public university."
This isn't Clinton's first policy address since launching her campaign, but it's arguably her most ambitious: the "New College Compact" would cost $350 billion over the course of a decade. But given the size of our economy and federal budget, investing $35 billion a year in covering tuition costs is arguably a manageable sum and money well spent.
Indeed, as she often does, Clinton characterized the initiative as an economic growth strategy, arguing yesterday that "making college affordable and available" is "one of the single biggest ways we can actually raise incomes."
Like any national initiative worth pursuing, implementing the "New College Compact" would be difficult. Not only would Republicans oppose these investments reflexively, but much of Clinton's plan is built on a federal-state partnership -- Clinton believes, accurately, that one of the key drivers of high tuition costs is states cutting back on higher-ed spending. Her plan helps states by expanding federal investments, but it also expects to help keep costs down at state colleges and universities.
And any plan that's dependent on states' cooperation can be inherently tricky, as Affordable Care Act proponents can tell you.
As for Clinton's Republican rivals, many of them complained about the "New College Compact." Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) described it as "a 20th-century outdated model," which seemed odd given that nothing resembling Clinton's plan existed in the 20th century.
Republicans' competing plans to help students afford higher education, however, at this point do not exist.