2020 Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg has unveiled a $700 billion higher education plan that pairs progressive ideals like free community college with evidence-based strategies and accountability measures. While the plan stops short of calling for sweeping loan forgiveness or free tuition at all public four-year universities, observers say it places him “solidly ‘in the middle’ of the free college debate,” writes Times Higher Education.
A late addition to the presidential race, Bloomberg has come under fire for his K-12 track record during his time as New York City’s mayor, when he focused on “data-driven results” and supported competition to public schools. However, David Bloomfield, a professor of education law at Brooklyn College who was often critical of Bloomberg’s K-12 approach told The Hechinger Report that Bloomberg’s higher education plan is “a thorough, progressive plan touching all bases—more Bernie [Sanders] than [Pete] Buttigieg, borrowing from [Elizabeth] Warren’s plan.”
Free two-year college, larger Pell Grants, and new repayment plans
The plan, which Bloomberg says will enable 70 percent of Americans to complete a postsecondary degree or credential by 2030, outlines a number of investments aimed at increasing access and affordability in higher education. They include:
- Eliminating tuition at two-year colleges for all students.
- Making four-year public colleges and universities “debt-free” for the lowest-income families.
- Reducing federal undergraduate student loan payments through a plan that caps monthly payments at 5 percent of discretionary income (compared with 10 percent under many existing plans).
- Tripling direct federal funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and other Minority-Serving Institutions.
- Fixing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to provide “debt relief to all qualifying public servants who’ve applied for forgiveness in good faith under the current policy.”
- Establishing a new federal-state matching program intended to “reverse a decade of state disinvestments in higher education” by requiring states and institutions to limit tuition hikes in order to receive full federal and state support.
- Doubling the maximum Pell Grant to $12,690; using it to cover non-tuition expenses such as books, food, transportation, and child care; and extending Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated and certain undocumented students.
- Asking two-year colleges to invest in evidence-based strategies to boost completion. Bloomberg points to the City University of New York’s ASAP program, which he funded as mayor, as an example of one such program that helps at-risk students complete their degrees.
- Simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and proactively notifying families of Pell-eligibility via the income tax return process.
- Piloting a program that would provide extra Pell funds to private colleges and universities that enroll and graduate large populations of low-income students.
Bloomberg says these measures will cost $700 billion across 10 years, funded by raising corporate taxes and taxes on the wealthy.
Calling for an end to legacy admissions
In addition, Bloomberg’s plan calls for the end of legacy preference in the admissions process, which his alma mater John Hopkins University has quietly phased out in the last decade and credits with helping build a more diverse student body. “I will make the application process fairer, by working to end legacy preference in admissions, so that genes no longer take precedence over grades,” Bloomberg said in a statement, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Bloomberg says he will “support legislation to require all institutions receiving federal aid to make public their comparative rates of admission for legacy and non-legacy candidates” and will “consider stronger measures if progress isn’t made toward ending legacy preferences, including limiting schools’ access to federal funds.” Bloomberg in 2018 also made a $1.8 billion gift to Johns Hopkins to make the school “forever need-blind” and eliminate loans from student aid packages.