This story is the second in a series that looks at how the presidential candidates could shape your family’s finances.
Many Americans see college as a necessity if they want a career that allows them to buy a home, support a family and acquire other trappings of what’s been defined as the American Dream.
But higher education doesn’t come cheap.
For students attending a public four-year college in their home state, tuition and fees currently average $10,440, according to the Urban Institute.
Now, several presidential candidates are proposing that many Americans should be able to attend school for free.
Biden and community college tuition
Former Vice President Joe Biden says students will be able to attend a community college for up to two years without paying tuition. A partnership between the federal government and the states would cover the costs.
He would also double the top value of Pell Grants, which is $6,195 for the current school year. That aid helps lower-income students pay college tuition, and Biden would expand that assistance to more middle-class students.
Klobuchar wants 529s for retraining
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota has a similar plan. Community college and technical certifications would be tuition-free, paid for by a federal match of $3 for every $1 a state pays for students going to school at least part-time in their home state.
Stocks hitting highs. What should you do:Here’s what smart investors do with their 401(k)s
She would also ease the path for older students, and those already in the workforce who want to be retrained for a new career. She’d push legislation that enables those groups to use “529” savings plans as well as Coverdell education accounts that similarly allow tax-free contributions for college and in some cases, K-12 education, to cover their costs.
Like Biden, Klobuchar would double the top Pell Grant to $12,000 a year. And families with annual incomes of up to $100,000 annually would become eligible for such aid.
Under his administration, former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg says no student would have to pay to attend a two-year public college. The lowest-income students would also be able to attend four-year institutions for free, and those schools would become “highly affordable for middle-class families,” his site says.
Sanders, Warren promise four years of free college
When it comes to tuition, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts would go further, making education at a four-year public college free for everyone.
Sanders would cover the cost with small taxes or fees on Wall Street traders, while Warren would use a tax on the wealthiest Americans to fund her proposal.
Buttigieg offers tuition relief to 80% of households
Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, meanwhile, says students in 80% of households would not have to pay any tuition at those four-year schools.
That would include households earning up to $100,000 “and many middle-income families with multiple children,” according to his site. Families with annual incomes of up to $150,000 would be able to get “substantial” tuition subsidies. And he would also boost the maximum Pell grant by $1,000.
“There’s no question if you hand that middle-class family $40,000, tuition they don’t have to pay, they’re going to be happy,” says Sandy Baum, senior fellow in the Center for Education, Data and Policy at the Urban Institute. “How could they not be? … It would make a very big difference to them.”
But students or their families may still have to borrow to pay for living expenses. And higher taxes may cut into whatever some households are able to save.
“These one-liners make it sound like there will be a miracle and no one will ever have to worry about paying for college again,” Baum says. “If only it were so simple.’’
Follow Charisse Jones on Twitter @charissejones