Warren's 'Education New Deal' will be dead on arrival

Warren's 'Education New Deal' will be dead on arrival
© Greg Nash

During the 2016 primary campaign, both Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersButtigieg on Biden's Iraq War vote: 'that vote was a mistake' Buttigieg on Biden's Iraq War vote: 'that vote was a mistake' The generational divide of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party MORE (I-Vt.) and Secretary Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHouse Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally House Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally It's about the delegates, stupid MORE supported tuition-free college and helped spur some creative responses. Albeit with lots of fine print, 11 states now have free college initiatives with at least nine others considering proposals. 

Since then, outstanding student debt exceeded $1.5 trillion and college costs have continued to escalate, so it is not surprising that free college and the student debt crisis have re-emerged as key issues in Democrats' 2020 presidential primary campaign.  

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Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenJulián Castro defends going on Fox: I'm focused on 'the people out there watching' Julián Castro defends going on Fox: I'm focused on 'the people out there watching' O'Rourke unveils plan to support women, minority-owned businesses MORE (D-Mass.) threw down the gauntlet and went all in with her proposal to provide loan forgiveness for 95 percent of student-loan borrowers, make two-year and four-year public colleges tuition-free and significantly expand the Pell Grant Program. 

Like the Green New Deal, the scope, price tag and practicality of this "Education New Deal" leaves it dead on arrival.

The call for broad debt cancellation, universal free college and the expansion of the Pell Grant program comprehensively touches the bases to relieve the current student-loan debt crisis and make college affordable. 

The price tag? Warren estimates $640 billion for loan forgiveness. The Urban Institute’s estimate for loan forgiveness, $955 billion. When the time comes, the arbiter will be the Congressional Budget Office, which will provide the official budget scoring estimate. One certainty: By that time any such proposal will cost significantly more than today’s estimates.

The inauguration is more than 20 months away and, even at breakneck speed, congressional action is at least two to three years down the road. During that time, the current student debt crisis will grow, and the forgiveness price tag will soar. 

Predictably, Warren’s proposal drew immediate fire. What was surprising is that it came from across the political spectrum. The left-leaning Brookings Institute opined that it is “regressive, expensive, and full of uncertainties.” The right-leaning Manhattan Institute argued that a safety net already exists for borrowers.

Education trade associations such as Career Education Colleges and Universities and the Council of Independent Colleges warned respectively that free public education will kill the for-profit education industry and increase pressure on independent colleges and universities.

The president of Arizona State University noted that the focus should be on college completion, not free college and loan forgiveness. 

None of this should distract parents and their college-bound students, who live in the real world and not a political one with the luxury of time for unbound debate. They need to make choices today based on what’s known, not what’s hoped for. 

For them, the two important fundamental questions remain the same and need to be answered. Which post-secondary experience best positions the student for the job and career they desire: a four-year college or an alternative such as a community college or skills-specific training.  

If a four-year college is the right path, which will provide the best academic, social and financial fit? Reaching for the most expensive four-year college and taking on excessive student loans with hope of benefiting from a future massive student loan forgiveness program is not a good idea. 

Warren’s plan should be evaluated for what it is: a bold, audacious attempt to envision a new system to make college affordable and relieve the current student loan debt crisis. Whether you agree or disagree with the vision, it does contribute to the necessary debate about how to fix our broken system of paying for college.

John Hupalo is the founder and CEO of Invite Education and a contributor to The Hill.