(CN) – Arguing access to higher education is becoming more important in a changing global economy, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg released a plan Monday to remove financial barriers to affordable college as a means to boost workforce development nationwide.
The South Bend, Indiana mayor lamented that although a college education has historically been seen as a ticket to the middle class, the prohibitive expenses that come with pursuing a degree makes it unavailable to many Americans, causing those that cannot afford it to “see college as a privilege for the wealthy, out of reach for working and middle class students.”
Buttigieg says affordable higher education is directly linked to “our ability to compete internationally, to innovate and grow our economy, to expand our middle class, and to make sure children have a better life than their parents.”
The 37-year-old mayor’s plan would expand access to get more students who want to be in college enrolled and help those already enrolled to finish their degree, in large part by making big investments.
Buttigieg proposes making public colleges tuition-free for 80% of American families, which includes families earning up to $100,000 annually and many middle-income families with multiple children. Students from families earning up to $150,000 would receive substantial tuition subsidies under his plan.
The proposal would also invest another $120 billion in the Pell Grant program, including increasing the size of the maximum grant by $1,000, tying Pell Grants to the rate of inflation to keep up with living costs and guaranteeing funding through mandatory entitlement spending.
Buttigieg says he would invest an additional $50 billion in historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges, and institutions serving minorities. He also calls for creating a $1 billion fund for community colleges, completing most of the free application for federal student aid for the majority of students beginning in 9th grade, and investing $2 billion in a pilot program to provide food vouchers to students in community colleges.
The 2020 hopeful’s plan would reduce the burden of student loan repayments, he says. It would automatically enroll students struggling to repay in income-based repayment plans, which would be cancelled tax-free after 20 years of enrollment. He also wants to cancel debts for students who attended unaffordable for-profit institutions, and ease loan burdens on public servants by ensuring earlier loan forgiveness and full debt cancellation after 10 years of service.
Additionally, Buttigeg wants to end wage garnishment and other collections on defaulted student loans for low-income borrowers, limit marketing from student loan servicers, make credit reporting on student loans more transparent, and update protections on student borrowers’ other federal benefits targeted by debt collectors.
The mayor’s plan also seeks to address the challenges faced by Americans who do not finish college – he says 40% of those who begin college do not complete their degree – or for those who do not pursue higher education at all, stating that the problems these people face are “compounded by a labor market that leaves behind those without strong work experience and professional networks.”
As part of a $50 billion investment in workforce development and lifelong learning, Buttigieg’s plan would double annual investments in career and technical education programs in high schools and colleges, put down $1 billion annually toward apprenticeship programs in non-traditional sectors like IT and clean energy, and provide $100 million each year in scaling public-private workforce partnerships for workers at the local level.
The Indiana native would also create a presidential “skills cabinet,” teaming up the secretaries of labor, education and commerce to work with states and industry leaders to develop a five-year skills strategy to spread around $2 billion each year for targeted workforce programs.
He also aims to tackle transparency, safety and oversight of colleges, in an effort to protect the life-changing investment that students are sometimes “forced to make…in a black box.”
To that end, Buttigieg proposes closing a loophole allowing for-profit colleges to target service members and veterans, increasing sexual violence protections on campuses, cracking down on career-college programs that provide students with low-value degrees, and requiring colleges to provide “clear, comprehensive, and accurate data on student debt, graduation rates, post-college earnings, and repayment outcomes.”
The candidate’s plan also expresses support for legislation like California’s bipartisan Fair Pay to Play Act, which opens the door to student-athletes seeking compensation for the fair use of their images, names and likenesses, which comes after the NCAA’s top governing body agreed to discuss updating student-athlete compensation rules last month.