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Bernie’s world: What if Miami were free?

By Mary Schrott, Senior Staff Writer

The oldest candidate in this year's U.S. presidential election, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, is appealing to the growing population of young voters by campaigning for reform on a key millennial issue: student debt.

In 2015, national student loan debt reached a record high of $1.2 trillion, which is an 84 percent increase since the 2008 to 2014 recession, according to CNN Money.

Sanders promised to make college tuition at undergraduate public universities free with the "College for All Act" he introduced in May 2015.

Miami is a publicly funded state institution and would be affected by Sanders's proposed legislation, if it were to pass.

David Creamer, Miami's treasurer and vice president for finance and business services, says it's difficult to predict what would happen to the university.

"It might be misleading to assume that everything that is offered today in each state - at least the tuition portion - would simply go away," Creamer said.

Junior Cody Philips supports Sanders and his plan, but agrees that it'll be tough to carry out.

"The way [Sanders] wants to pay for [tuition] is with taxes on the 1 percent, which would be really hard to pass," said Philips. "The end-all be-all is that people need education."

Philips said, at Miami, the idea may have even more trouble catching on because some at the school don't need to worry about footing the bill themselves.

"Some people don't try at all because they already know they are going to run their father's company one day," Philips said. "We are a very wealthy university with a high average income. Nobody thinks of the actual cost of what they are paying."

According to the Office of Institutional Research, 29 percent of the 2019 class has an annual household income of more than $200,000 - which puts those families in the top 5 percent of American households, according to CNN Money.

"Less students [at Miami] are personally involved with how they pay for tuition," Creamer said. "Though tuition is an issue that may affect less students here, that doesn't mean we shouldn't be concerned."

Creamer justifies Miami's price by the quality of education and university experience offered to students. Upholding Miami's prestige thus plays into some of Creamer's concern surrounding free public undergraduate education.

"Affordable education is important but the quality of it is as important," Creamer said. "Free goods are sometimes free because they just aren't very good."

Brent Shock, assistant vice president of student financial aid and bursar offices, said he is concerned students may become less dedicated to their education if offered free tuition.

"There's something to be said for when you're paying for something yourself or you are intimately related to the person paying for you," Shock said. "It's a different mindset when you've got skin in the game."

Shock, who graduated from Miami in 1992, not only works with students with financial need but experienced student debt himself.

"I came from a very poor family," Shock said.

After a year-and-a-half living at home after graduation, Shock paid off his $13,500 in college debt and came back to work for Miami.

Shock says Miami students are persistent about graduating on time, which lessens student debt.

The 53 percent of Miami students who graduated last year with debt is low compared to the 70 percent of national bachelor degree-earning students who graduated with loans, Shock said.

While Shock is uncertain how Sanders' plan will provide free tuition, he agrees with several of the senator's proposals, like stopping the federal government from profiting on student loans and substantially cutting student loan interest rates.

Creamer, who paid for his own undergraduate tuition at Ohio University by working nights at a hotel desk, said higher education must be made more affordable. And, many voters agree.

Sanders' movement toward lowering costs of higher education is one of the reasons he is popular with young voters, Philips said.

"So many millennials like him because we realize it's not easy to pay your way through college anymore," Philips said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to elect someone like this. He's got some great plans."