Conservative Media Push Falsehoods About Hillary Clinton's College Affordability Plan

Right-wing media have falsely claimed Hillary Clinton's debt-free college plan eliminates student financial responsibility and doesn't address rising tuition costs. In fact, students on the plan would be required to work, and the proposal ties federal funding to states lowering school costs.

Clinton Announces $350B College Affordability Plan Designed To Make Public College Debt-Free

Hillary Clinton's Campaign Releases Plan To Create Debt-Free College, Tuition-Free Community College, And Reduce Student Loan Interest Rates. On August 10, Hillary Clinton's campaign released her comprehensive plan to make 4-year public college attendance debt-free. The proposal, called the “New College Compact,” is projected to cost $350 billion over 10 years and would be fully funded by limiting itemized tax deductions for the wealthiest Americans. As Politico reported:

The compact's base-line goals are to allow students to attend a four-year public college without taking out loans for tuition or attend a community college tuition-free, push states to spend more on higher education, encourage institutions to cut costs while boosting graduation rates, and reward innovation.


Clinton's overall $350 billion budget for the proposal breaks down like this: More than half of the total would be spent on the grants for state and colleges. Another third would be the expense of cutting interest rates for students who have outstanding student loan debt. And the rest would be spent on innovations, rewarding college completion and boosting support for parents.

Clinton's campaign has since released further details about the plan, such as an initiative to expand higher education access for nontraditional students, like parents. Reuters reported that Clinton's proposal would increase federal grants for college students with young children:

The proposal would increase funding from $15 million to $250 million for a federal program that provides matching funds to states and institutions for on-campus child care. Her campaign estimates it would create 250,000 additional spaces for the children of students.

Clinton also said she would create a “SPARK College Scholarship” to help parents pay for their own higher education.

It would provide up to $1,500 per year to as many as one million student parents who achieve minimum grade levels and meet other requirements, the campaign said. [Politico8/10/15; Reuters, 8/14/15]

Conservatives Suggest Clinton's Plan Does Not Require Students To Work

Fox News' Stephen Moore: Students Should “Foot Some Of The Bill.” Fox News contributor and Heritage Foundation fellow Stephen Moore misleadingly claimed in an op-ed for that Clinton's plan does not make students responsible for funding their own education (emphasis added):  

She wouldn't make it free, but only a small fraction of college cost would be borne by the students and families. This third party payer system is what has caused the spiral of inflation in tuitions in the first place.


What is wrong, by the way, with asking 19 to 22-year-olds to work at least 10-25 hours a week to help pay for their own education. They'd probably get more out of their classroom experiences if they had to foot some of the bill.


Someone needs to tell Hillary that just as there's no such thing as a free lunch. There's no such thing as a free college education. Someone has to pay the tab. [, 8/11/15]

The Federalist: Clinton's Plan “Forces Everyone To Pay For Other People's Bad Decisions.” In an article for The Federalist, managing editor and Heartland Institute education fellow Joy Pullmann acknowledged that Clinton's plan contains a student contribution requirement, but argued that it would encourage students who “are not good candidates” for college to pursue higher education “because they're not paying the bill” (emphasis added):

The people directly benefiting from higher incomes that may come from job training should bear the cost of that training themselves. That's only fair. If government forces everyone to pay for job training, more people who are not good candidates for it will pursue it anyway because they're not paying the bill. This ultimately drives down the quality of the training and forces everyone to pay for other people's bad decisions.

That's precisely what Clinton's plan, and our current higher-education system, do. College is a bit like the lottery. Kids for whom it's a good risk really make bank: they get the degree and a higher lifetime income. Kids for whom it's not really get screwed: they come out with crushing debt and often no degree. The problem with these “free college” plans or their Republican incarnation as tuition welfare is that they assume everyone will benefit equally from a college education. [The Federalist, 8/10/15]              

Fox News' Charles Payne: Clinton's Plan Makes College “Free” For Students. On the August 18 edition of Fox News' Your World With Neil Cavuto, Charles Payne repeatedly stated that the Clinton debt plan would make college “free” for students, talking over his guest, Democratic strategist Jessica Ehrlich, as she attempted to correct him (emphasis added):

PAYNE: Beyond the fact that thinking that you're going to tax one area of the economy and it won't have repercussions, and ripple through, and hurt jobs and opportunities -- which is nuts -- this also is a problem because tuition is only going to go up, because you're talking about more free money that's coming from someone else.

EHRLICH: I mean, I don't see how there's a correlation between sort of the free money and the tuition going up -- I mean there -- [cross-talk]

PAYNE: You're telling me that -- [cross-talk]

EHRLICH: There's an issue of supply and demand -- [cross-talk]

PAYNE: If it's free -- If it's free, there'll be a lot of demand! If it's free, there'll be a lot of demand. If it's free, if I'm some kid and somebody I've never met, you're going to force them to pay for me to go to college?

EHRLICH: It's not free. But it's not free.

PAYNE: It's going to be free to me, the student! The kid --

EHRLICH: It's not free to the student. No. Hillary's plan does not give away free college.

PAYNE: It's a debt-free -- It's not the kind of college plan that anybody watching this show had to go through. It's not the kind -- we're essentially talking about buying young votes --


PAYNE: This next century is going to be the knowledge economy, let's face it, and people better have the right skills. And, even if you think someone else is paying for it, don't make the wrong choice. But we know that this is not going to work. [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 8/18/15]

But Clinton's Plan Requires Students To Contribute Wages 

LA Times: Clinton Plan Requires Students To Work 10 Hours Per Week. Michael Memoli at the Los Angeles Times outlined Clinton's inclusion of student wage contributions and “realistic” family contributions in her college plan (emphasis added):

States that agree to increase spending on higher education would be eligible for federal grants to help reduce the gap between what families can afford to pay and full tuition. Families will also be required to meet what the campaign says would be a “realistic contribution” to tuition, and students would also be required to work 10 hours a week in return for being freed from borrowing money.

“We can't expect the federal government just to pay the bill for free. That's not how America works,” Clinton said. [Los Angeles Times8/10/15]

AP: Clinton Plan Requires Student Wage Contribution. The Associated Press reported that Clinton's plan is styled as a “public-private partnership” and requires students to contribute wages earned from 10 hours of work per week:

She pitched her plan as a public-private partnership, requiring a contribution from the federal government and states, the colleges and universities and students themselves.

“Americans will have to work hard to put themselves through school to out-learn and out-hustle our competitors, just like we always have,” she told voters gathered at a high school in Exeter, New Hampshire.


For most students, their families will still be expected to make a “realistic” contribution, say Clinton's aides, and students will contribute wages from ten hours of work per week. [AP, 8/10/15]

Conservatives Claim Clinton's Plan Does Not Address Rising Tuition Costs

NRO Editorial Board: Clinton Compact “Almost Entirely Silent” On Tuition Costs. The editors of the National Review Online glossed over the state and college accountability measures in Clinton's plan, referring to them as “half-hearted proposals” (emphasis added):

A study released in July by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York was only the latest piece of evidence of what conservatives have long knew [sic]: Increasing public support for college tuition, especially in the form of federal tuition subsidies, has inflated its total cost. The obscene total cost of college education is far from the only reason why Americans do not graduate from college, but it is one of them. Yet Hillary's plan is almost entirely silent on controlling total costs, and, by increasing the supply of low-cost loans, the level of funding from state governments, and increasing other subsidies, proposes to lower out-of-pocket costs in the way that we've already seen will backfire.

There are half-hearted proposals in here to help mitigate the iron law of what subsidies do to prices, and most of them are bad: A requirement that colleges spend a certain share of their budgets on instruction, for instance, is appealing but hamfisted, recalling Obamacare's “medical-loss ratio” requirement ... Schools need to be held accountable for their performance, but spending more federal dollars on higher education and trying to micromanage the results from Washington risks bringing us the same pricey, mediocre results we have from our K-12 system. [National Review Online, 8/11/15]

Fox's Stephen Moore: Clinton's Plan Doesn't “Look Under The Hood” To Tackle School Spending. In his August 11 op-ed, Stephen Moore argued that Clinton's plan failed to address “accountability,” which he said “is lacking at most universities”:   

The fundamental problem is that most universities are charging about double what they should. No one wants to look under the hood of the Ivory Towers and find out where money is being wasted.  It's called accountability and that is what is lacking at most universities. If state schools are getting a bigger wad of cash from the federal government through the states, their costs and extravagancies will rise, not fall. [, 8/11/15]     

Fox's Charles Payne: Clinton's Plan Doesn't “Put Pressure On Colleges With These Sprawling Campuses.” On the August 10 edition of Fox News' The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson, Fox Business host Charles Payne argued that plans like Clinton's fail to “address colleges” with “amazing facilities” (emphasis added):

PAYNE: It's a hell of a voting bloc! I mean that's essentially what this is, right? Buying votes. But, you think about what's happened with student loans, and student tuition, particularly since President Obama has come into office. He kicked out the middle men, so bankers that might take a responsible approach to lending money for something that won't have a return-- like majoring in basket weaving -- instead it's, 'Go to school. It's sort of a right. Wink wink, we'll get rid of the debt somewhere.'

There are already a couple of programs in place. One has already taken 39 billion dollars from student loans and put it on the back of taxpayers. Which by the way, 850 of the 1.2 trillion dollars we're responsible for already. And the notion that somehow a wealthy person should pay someone else's kid's college tuition? It's scary stuff. It smacks of that kind of socialistic thinking that's backward. But -- and the cost curve doesn't go down, it goes up.

Your coll- We don't address colleges. Never put pressure on colleges with these sprawling campuses, and this great dining, and all of these amazing facilities and tenure and all of these things that cost so much money. There's never pressure on them because they're one of the favored political classes, so they keep hiking tuition no matter what, for studies, by the way, that people can never really make the money back on. [Fox News, The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson, 8/10/15]

In Fact, Clinton's Proposal Ties Federal Funding To Lowering College Costs

The New Yorker: Clinton Strategy Doesn't Just “Funnel Money” To Schools, It Holds States Accountable For Boosting Higher Ed Funding. The New Yorker noted that some media coverage of Clinton's plan has emphasized its price tag while overlooking the ways Clinton proposes to tie funding to state accountability for increasing higher education aid (emphasis added):

In coverage of Clinton's plans, the three-hundred-and-fifty-billion-dollar price tag, along with the candidate's populist proposal to fund it by getting rid of some tax loopholes for the rich, have received a lot of attention. But just as noteworthy is the message Clinton is sending about structural problems with the higher-education system. For example, during and after the recession, states slashed their higher-education budgets, often raising public-university tuition rates to make up for it. Clinton's proposal wouldn't simply funnel money into public universities to make up for the decline in state funding; she would give the money only to those states that stabilize and increase their spending--essentially creating a new federal incentive to encourage states to change their policies. [The New Yorker8/11/15]

NY Times: Clinton's Plan Would Require Colleges To “Hold Down Costs.” The New York Times pointed out Clinton's requirement that colleges keep costs low and improve graduation rates as part of her larger plan (emphasis added):

The Clinton proposals might fare better than those offered by her two main opponents for the Democratic nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland, because unlike them, she is not relying mostly on the government to deal with student debt. Colleges would have to hold down costs and show improvements on graduation rates, for instance [New York Times, 8/10/15]

WSJ: Schools' Spending Would “Face New Constraints” Under Clinton Plan. The Wall Street Journal reported that federal funding under Clinton's plan would come with “strings attached” for states and colleges (emphasis added):

The Clinton plan would have the federal government send large grants to states, which would then ensure students can pay tuition without taking out loans. There are strings attached: States would be required to increase their allocations to higher education, and schools would face new constraints on spending. Families would have to contribute what they can afford, according to a financial analysis, and students would be required to work 10 hours per week. [Wall Street Journal8/10/15]