Elizabeth Warren's latest proposal: cancel student debt, make college free

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/04/22/scholars-jubilee.html


Elizabeth Warren is, if I’m honest, pretty awesome.



(Notice she hasn’t said a goddamned thing about reversing the Republican tax scam.)


I worked full-time while going to college part-time to avoid taking on student debt.

This plan is

Fucking Awesome.

Whatever happened to making things easier for subsequent generations than we had it? Seriously, that used to be the goal of parents and grandparents “we went through that shit so you don’t have to”. Getting beat on a picket line so labour laws will be written was never done with the expectation that the kids were pampered if they didn’t do the same. Just because I sacrificed my mental and physical health to get a post-secondary education doesn’t mean that kids these days should have to. Just because the choice was between that or crippling debt, doesn’t mean future generations should be forced to make that choice. Just because I had to calculate what education might get me a decent job to make up for the cost doesn’t mean it was right.

If you could have gone to university for anything, and didn’t have the debt calculus, is it possible your choices would be different?

What if you didn’t have student debt and didn’t need to rely on your employer for a medical plan? Would you be more willing to take a leap and be an entrepreneur? Create a business where you are the job provider? Imagine the kind of world where you didn’t have to cling to a shitty employer just for the healthcare or to feed a lending company. Imagine the economic kick in the ass, if instead of being caught in a spiral of compound interest, people could afford to buy things.

Imagine the things we could create if we weren’t being eaten alive by stress and our own hunger because lunch money was spent on servicing that debt.

You want the amazing sci-fi space future? This is how we get started on the way to sci-fi space future.

Yes, I am aware that there are countries where this is true already, and they don’t have sci-fi space future. But if you look at some of the things they have done and imagine if you could add millions more brains to the process.


real question, if college becomes free, what happens to the money I have in my kids’ 529 accounts (assuming they wouldn’t need it all for other non-tuition college expenses)? Do I get to have that money back?


Would free college for everyone be a bad idea if you can’t immediately get your investment back?

I’m sure there’s plenty of detail to read in the proposal.


I’m not sure this will come to pass but honestly i 100% support any effort to tackle student debt and the cost of higher education.

Coincidentally i was looking at what i needed to do to potentially get my student loans forgiven. The college that i went to did get sued for deceptive practices and it closed recently, however for me to get my loans forgiven i would have to have documentation/proof that i was misled and pressured to take out loans. Something the school definitely did, but this was 10 years ago and most of the communication was verbal so i would have no way of backing up my claim :frowning: At this point i really hope Warren’s proposal does become a thing because it would give me some hope.


I’d say the specifics on how existing 529 plans (I have close to 50K in mine) get handled would greatly affect the opinion of many on this proposal.


My university would love to disregard students’ immigration, naturalization or most criminal background checks for lots of good reasons. Totally support this.

There’s a joke from the era of Communist Poland that seems appropriate:

A citizen of the Polish People’s Republic goes to the local bank to deposit his savings. But he has some worries.

“Comrade bank teller, what happens if your vault is robbed?”

“No need to worry. Our main branch in Warsaw would cover your savings!”

“But suppose the whole bank fails. What then?”

“People have a right to be worried, of course. So that you can feel completely secure, the Polish Central Bank still guarantees your savings.”

“But suppose the Polish Central Bank ran out of money?”

“This is very hypothetical,. But if it ever happened, we have a treaty with the Soviet Union. They would still make sure you weren’t out of pocket.”

“But what if the Soviet Union went bust?”

“Look, Wouldn’t that be worth your lousy savings?”


so you’re saying I should be ok giving up my $50K in college savings so that everyone else can go to college? Keep in mind, I’ve worked very hard and sacrificed quite a bit to get to that level of savings. I fall below this 100K income mark they are proposing. That money means a lot to my family. I actually support cheaper or even ‘free’ college, don’t get me wrong. But it also matters how it affects my family.

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How some of these comments sound:


Well, considering that you presumably would still benefit from having free university for your kids (which, especially if you are talking about multiple kids as suggested in your comment, would probably considerably exceed your $50K), you’d be coming out ahead anyway, so why not?


You can already take money out of a 529 for non-educational expenses. As far as I can tell, you’ll be charged income tax on it, as well as a 10% penalty.


Is she talking about making the entire college experience (tuition, room and board, books, etc.) free or just tuition?

It seems to me the colleges are just as much in the (non-profit?) business of providing non-classroom related services to students (dorms/housing, dining halls, recreational facilities) as education.

How much of the student debt today is directly attributable to tuition and how much is all the ancillary stuff that “fills out” the college experience?

At a glance, it seems like you can withdraw money from that account at any time, you just pay income tax (contributions have presumably been tax deductible). I cannot think of a reason this should change. The money not being refunded or transferred to some other investment account is pretty much the least likely scenario.


At the very least, you could get it back minus income tax deductions if there are no changes to existing law. Depending on whether Warren’s plan would qualify as a tax-free scholarship under existing law, you could even get the non-qualifying withdrawal penalty waived.

Or hold onto it for grad school.

From her post, emphasis in the original:

To allow students to graduate debt-free — especially students from lower-income families — we must expand the funding available to cover non-tuition expenses. In addition to the existing federal higher education funding that can be redirected to cover non-tuition expenses, we should invest an additional $100 billion over the next ten years in Pell Grants — and expand who is eligible for a Grant — to make sure lower-income and middle-class students have a better chance of graduating without debt. Research shows that more funding for non-tuition costs helps improve graduation rates, which must be our goal.

Some new regulation overseeing price gouging on books and the like given its captive market wouldn’t be unappreciated…


At a local community college I ended up paying $1200-2200 a quarter in tuition.

Now multiply that by some invasive vines, and add in skull and bones and tuition alone could easily add up to $50,000 for 4 years at a prestigious school.


I’m fine with the income tax on earnings, but a 10% penalty should be waived as part of this proposal. But people telling me I should be ok losing this money, like I’m somehow ending up ahead anyway because the cost of college would have been over $50K anyway, have completely lost their minds. This is real money I could have been using to feed my frickin kids, take them on a vacation we had to skip, etc.


In anycase with a 529 the penalties are waived if there’s a full scholarship. So you don’t have to worry about anything.