Elizabeth Warren’s College Plan – The Atlantic
“It’s not an accident,” Warren told me, that the road to economic security, “is even tougher and rockier for black families.” She pointed to property as an example. “Homeownership is the number-one way middle-class families build wealth, so it’s no surprise that for decades the federal government subsidized the purchase of housing for white families but denied that to black families,” she said.
Warren is making the bold wager that people will come to the polls next year motivated by policy. In survey after survey, voters suggest that policy is front of mind; reality tends to paint a much different picture. Still, Warren is also gambling simply by releasing such extensive policies—including breaking up big tech, reforming the Department of Defense, and providing debt relief to Puerto Rico—so far in advance of the first primary caucuses. “It is risky to put out plans in as many areas which each have a constituency,” Heather McGhee, a senior fellow and the former president of Demos, a liberal think tank, told me. “But it shows a basic level of compassion for the voter.”
When Warren presented her higher education policy in late April, one of seemingly countless lengthy policy proposals she has laid out this election cycle, her move to cancel student debt grabbed headlines, and rightly so. More than 40 million Americans are saddled with student debt; but it is unequally distributed among whites and people of color. As the reaction to the news of billionaire venture capitalist Robert Smith pledging to pay off the debt of Morehouse graduates showed, black borrowers are more likely to struggle with loans. That’s why, Warren says, her plan contains other notable features, namely a $50 billion fund for historically black colleges and other minority-serving institutions, and tuition-free public colleges, a wedge issue for Bernie Sanders during his 2016 run.
Black colleges have been asking federal lawmakers for more funding for years to account for more than a century of underfunding. Still, as Howard University’s president, Wayne Frederick, put it last week, the institutions “out-punch their weight class.” He pointed to a National Science Foundation study showing that in the time Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and MIT—with combined endowments in the tens of billions—had 221 of their black undergraduates earn doctorates in STEM fields, Howard had 220 on its own.
Several days after Warren’s initial policy was released, she added a provision to allow private historically black colleges such as Morehouse, Howard, and Dillard University, in New Orleans, to opt-in to her tuition-free model. “Black Americans were kept out of higher education, and federal and state governments poured money into colleges that served almost exclusively white students,” Warren told me. “This is a chance for African-American students to make choices on a level playing field about where they want to be in schools not driven by tuition-costs.”