Bernie Sanders on Education

Bernie Sanders believes that all students deserve the opportunity to receive an affordable, quality education from the earliest stages of schooling to high-level degrees. He has sponsored bills to make public colleges and universities tuition-free, as well as to drastically reduce interest rates on student loan debt.

College Tuition

Bernie believes that no student who is willing and able to go to college should be denied based on the income of their parents. The S. 1373: College for All Act, which he introduced, would make all public colleges and universities tuition-free. In an editorial for the Huffington Post, he asks: “Why do we accept a situation where hundreds of thousands of qualified people are unable to go to college because their families don’t have enough money?”

See the official campaign’s issue page here.

The cost of college tuition has become increasingly unaffordable for middle class and poor families.

How have tuition levels changed over the past few decades?

Currently, average public in-school tuition rates are over $9,000 per year. This graphic shows the change in tuition costs since 1980:


According to USSA statistics, students in 1983 generally covered 23 percent of their own tuition costs. In 2012, they covered 47 percent. Part of this is due to a collapse in Pell Grants, which are scholarships for students that they do not need to pay back. When the Pell Grant program began in 1965, they covered 75 percent of tuition costs. In 2012, they only covered 32 percent.

But I know plenty of Baby Boomers who worked themselves through college. Aren’t today’s students just lazy?

In 1978, it was possible for a minimum wage worker to earn the cost of a year’s college tuition over the course of a summer. Today, that same worker would have to work full-time for an entire year – just to cover the cost of tuition.

Inflation is not the only factor that has raised the cost of college. In 1978, a meal that cost $5 would cost about $11.15 today – a little over two times more. But a year’s college tuition in 1978, which would have cost about $800, would today cost a student over $9000. That’s an increase of over eleven-fold. The financial struggle facing students today is real, and it is not due solely to inflation.

What has caused these skyrocketing tuition bills?

One theory is that the liberal granting of student loans by the government and private lenders gives colleges and universities room to greatly increase tuition without having a negative impact on their enrollment numbers.

Other theories revolve around the need for more of students’ money to feed the increased spending that universities have been indulging in. People in high-prestige positions within the institution receive pay rates similar to CEOs of large companies, extraneous “administrators” are taken on and overpaid for doing office work that does not directly relate to education, and a priority on spending for sport and recreation over education diverts student tuition into unrelated projects and materials.

How does tuition in America compare to other countries?

Long story short? Not good. Watch this video to learn more.

All public colleges and universities should be tuition free.

How can providing free tuition help students?

With an average yearly in-state tuition cost of over $9,000, college students are looking at a financial burden of over $36,000 by the time they graduate college, and that is only accounting for tuition. The average student also spends nearly $1,200 on textbooks. After student fees, books, supplies, housing, food, and transportation needs are accounted for, the cost of college is astronomically expensive for all but the wealthiest of families.

Because of this, many families either avoid spending a significant portion of their incomes every year in order to save enough to send their kids to college, or students and families are forced to take out loans that can haunt them for decades after graduation. Unfortunately, too many students who are willing and able to achieve great things in university are forced to drop out or avoid going at all because they cannot afford the financial burden.

Relieving the burden of tuition fees on students and parents can greatly increase their quality of living and allow all students who have the potential and desire to achieve a higher education the opportunity to follow their dream. In 2011, people who worked full-time and had a college degree earned an average of $21,100 more than those who had only a high school diploma. Being able to attend college significantly increases opportunities for upward mobility and a better life for our children, which is a key component of the American dream.

How can providing free tuition for students help the United States as a whole?

Because college tuition is so expensive, many families and individuals are forced to cut back on spending and either save money for their children’s future college expenses or repay student loans with high interest rates. Sagging consumer spending can have a marked negative effect on the country’s economy. Therefore, by freeing up this liquid capital and allowing Americans to spend their income more freely on goods and services like clothing, electronics, entertainment, and recreation, alleviating the burden of college tuition will have a positive impact on the economy of the United States.

Perhaps more importantly for the future of our nation, an educated populace is necessary to stay abreast of growing industries, technological and scientific breakthroughs, and high-income careers. All of these factors play a large role in the health and prosperity of a nation’s economy. The education levels of a state or country are very often correlated with its income levels and GDP. By investing in an educated workforce, the United States is marking itself as a competitor in today’s global economy.

But why should education be a public good and not a private commodity?

For one view of the argument, watch this brief ATTN: video.

Quality education is part of our basic human rights: because of the enrichment we receive by studying what we choose as well as the economical and employment opportunities we get, higher education is an integral part of the pursuit of happiness. Everyone has that right, not only those who can afford to buy it.

What does Bernie say about college tuition costs?

In a statement quoted by Bloomberg, he said, “We live in a highly-competitive global economy and, if our economy is to be strong, we need the best-educated workforce in the world. That will not happen if, every year, hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, and if millions more leave school deeply in debt.”

What policies has he proposed with regards to college tuition?

Bernie introduced the College for All Act, which would “eliminate the $70 billion dollar tuition costs at all 4-year public colleges and universities.” To qualify, states would have to foot 33 percent of the bill (the federal government would sponsor the rest) and take various steps to maintain or increase expenditure on improving opportunities for students and faculty.

This TYT video explains his proposal in further detail:

But nothing is “free”!  How are you going to pay for this?

There are various measures that have been proposed to cover these changes. In the College for All Act, which Bernie sponsored, a “Robin Hood” tax on Wall Street would be implemented – a 0.5 percent speculation fee on investment houses, hedge funds, and other stock trades, as well as a 0.1 percent fee on bonds and a 0.005 percent fee charged on derivatives. These very small taxes on the financial sector would completely cover the cost of providing free higher education to all students who are willing and able to attend college or university.

Moreover, the cost of not providing higher education must also be factored into consideration. A more educated workforce is likely to lead to higher incomes and a higher GDP for the nation, which will lead to increased prosperity, wealth, and consumer spending in its own right. In addition, families and individuals will spend their income freely instead of saving it for college tuition or using it to pay back student loans. This rise in consumer spending will also likely have a positive effect on the nation’s GDP.

Early Childhood Education

Bernie believes that providing quality, affordable early childhood education is a family value, as it is fundamental for both the strength of our workforce and the future of our children.

We need high-quality, affordable early childhood education.

What has Bernie said about early childhood education?

In testimony at the Vermont State house in Feb. 2014, Bernie said, “There is perhaps no issue more important than how we educate our youth. I am very concerned that, on many levels, we are failing our youth. We must do away with the archaic notion that education begins at 4 or 5 years old. For far too long, our society has undervalued the need for high-quality and widely accessible early-childhood education.”

What policies has Bernie proposed about early childhood education?

Bernie introduced the Foundations for Success Act, which passed Feb. 2011. It called for enhancing early childhood care and education. The purpose of this Act “is to provide grants, on a competitive basis, to States to enable such States to establish a State Early Care and Education System, which will provide all children in the State, ages 6 weeks to kindergarten, with access to a full-time, high quality, developmentally appropriate, early care and education program”.


Bernie wants educational institutions to increase the percentage of their faculty that are tenured or tenure-track, as well as hire more professors and emphasize spending related to education

Colleges and Universities should hire more faculty and increase their percentage of tenured and tenure-track professors.

What policies has Bernie proposed about college and university professors?

Bernie’s College for All Act includes the following expectation for educators: Within five years of the program’s implementation, at least 75 percent of instruction would have to be taught by tenured or tenure-track professors. In addition, colleges will be encouraged to hire new faculty.

Financial Aid

Bernie does not believe students should have to reapply for financial aid every year.

Students should not have to reapply for financial aid every year.

What policies has Bernie proposed about financial aid?

The College for All Act would “remove requirements for students to re-apply for financial aid each year.”

K-12 Education

Bernie believes that America needs to invest in funding for K-12 public schools to ensure that our nation’s population is among the best-educated in the world. Bernie supports expanding educational programs available to children, as well as dramatically reforming No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

No Child Left Behind needs to be seriously reformed.

What is the No Child Left Behind Act?

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002, requires that schools across the country administer standardized tests.  Should students’ scores on these tests fail to meet certain standards, the results can be used to levy penalties against the schools. In addition, the law mandates that all teachers must have both a bachelor’s degree and pass state tests in order to teach.

What’s wrong with that? That all sounds fairly reasonable.

While the NCLB admirably aims to improve the quality of education for our nation’s students, critics argue that the “test and sanction” methods it employs lead to ineffective or counterproductive outcomes.

Specifically, these critics posit that the act fails to account for the systematic causes of low educational attainment such as poverty, geographical location, and racial prejudice. Additionally, underfunded school districts may not have the money to hire enough well-trained teachers and will likely not be able to achieve the same test scores as wealthier school districts who hire the most qualified teachers and maintain the best educational facilities.

The result is that impoverished schools that are already struggling are punished when their students cannot meet the NCLB proficiency standards while their more affluent peers can. This negatively impacts not only the school itself, but the underprivileged children who rely on the school for an education.

It is perhaps for these reasons that the performance levels of students, as evaluated by standardized testing, illustrate that improvement of student performance – both generally and within particular groups – has declined since the bill was enacted. Widespread cheating scandals, discrimination against poor-performing students, and other controversies have also arisen since the act took effect.

Where does Bernie stand on No Child Left Behind?

Bernie strongly opposes the NCLB:

“I voted against No Child Left Behind in 2001, and continue to oppose the bill’s reliance on high-stakes standardized testing to direct draconian interventions. In my view, No Child Left Behind ignores several important factors in a student’s academic performance, specifically the impact of poverty, access to adequate health care, mental health, nutrition, and a wide variety of supports that children in poverty should have access to. By placing so much emphasis on standardized testing, No Child Left Behind ignores many of the skills and qualities that are vitally important in our 21st century economy, like problem solving, critical thinking, and teamwork, in favor of test preparation that provides no benefit to students after they leave school.”

Instead of NCLB, Bernie has called for a more holistic method of education that gives teachers more flexibility and students more support systems.

View the full infographic on standardized testing here.

So what has Bernie done to reform No Child Left Behind?

In 2013, Bernie worked with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to develop a program “that would allow schools to move away from standardized testing, broaden the curriculum and allow educators to focus on the critical thinking and teamwork skills that are vital in the 21st century economy.” This would discourage a standardized testing environment where teachers “teach to the test,” and encourage an environment with task-based assignments to determine students’ progress.

Bernie supported the recently passed Every Child Achieves Act of 2015

Bernie voted yes on the Every Child Achieves Act, which is a re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This act allows states to create their own accountability systems for student performance, to strengthen low-performing schools, and to require community-based assessments to focus on areas of student need. It also ensures that federal funds are used for early childhood programs.

Common Core

What is the Common Core?

According to the Common Core website, “The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live.

That doesn’t sound so bad. Why are the Common Core standards so controversial?

The Common Core standards have both vocal supporters and critics, leading to much publicity about the standards and their implementation. Critics argue that implementing the Common Core will be a painful transition for teachers and students, that the standards are too vague, and that they will lead to high costs due to the need to update technology and to replace obsolete curricula.

Advocates, on the other hand, argue that the new standards will raise the ranking of U.S. educational system internationally, will allow for more cohesion between states’ educational systems, and will bring more academic rigor to the classroom.

How has Bernie voted on Common Core?

While Bernie has neither outright endorsed nor opposed the Common Core, he voted in early 2015 against an anti-Common Core amendment that would “prohibit the federal government from ‘mandating, incentivizing, or coercing’ states into adopting Common Core or any other standards.” This indicates that Bernie opposes a repeal of the Common Core standards.

A strong educational system is a key component of a prosperous society.

We’ve heard where Bernie stands on NCLB and the Common Core, but what has Bernie said about supporting teachers?

Bernie strongly supports teachers and believes that educators in general should be entitled to pensions and should be paid more:

“Something is very wrong when, last year, the top 25 hedge fund managers earned more than the combined income of 425,000 public school teachers. We have to get our priorities right.”

Additionally, Bernie supports the right of America’s educators to join unions and engage in collective bargaining:

“I am strongly supportive of collective bargaining for private and public sector workers. I am strongly opposed to agency fee and right-to-work laws.”

I will fight to make sure that workers are allowed to join unions when a majority sign valid authorization cards stating that they want a union as their bargaining representative. This is not a radical idea. Card check recognition was the law of the land from 1941-1966.”

What does Bernie think about school funding?

First and foremost, Bernie believes that all children deserve the right to a quality education, not just those who live in wealthy areas:

“I believe guaranteeing resource equity is a core tenet of the federal government’s role in education policy, and if elected, I will work to reduce the resource disparities that currently exist between schools in wealthy and low-income areas.”

This is one of the reasons Bernie opposes NCLB and the Student Success Act, which would, according to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), “[take] away resources from students who need them the most”.

I’ve heard a lot about school vouchers. What are school vouchers, and where does Bernie stand on them?

School voucher programs are generally funded by state governments and offer parents reimbursements for the amount that it would cost to educate their children in public school to be used towards private school tuition. Proponents of the voucher system argue that they offer low-income families quality school choices, while critics argue that vouchers funnel public funds into private and religious institutions.

The National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers — the two largest teachers unions in the U.S. — both strongly oppose vouchers. The AFT labeled them an attempt “to undermine or otherwise diminish the role of public education in our society.” The NEA, meanwhile, “opposes school vouchers because they divert essential resources from public schools to private and religious schools, while offering no real “choice” for the overwhelming majority of students.”

Like the two largest teachers unions in the country, Bernie is “strongly opposed to any voucher system that would re-direct public education dollars to private schools, including through the use of tax credits.”

Speaking of public funding of privately run organizations, where does Bernie stand on charter schools?

Bernie does not oppose charter schools — that is, schools that are privately managed but funded by taxes. Indeed, Bernie voted for the Charter School Expansion Act of 1998. Nonetheless, Bernie believes that these institutions must be “held to the same standards of transparency as public schools” to ensure accountability for these privately managed organizations. It is worth noting that while charter schools are privately managed, they do not charge tuition to students and are considered public schools.

Bernie’s stance on charter schools is similar to that of both the AFT and the NEA, which do not oppose charter schools, but seek to ensure that they are run in ways that benefit the students. The NEA, for example, shares Bernie’s concern that these schools must be run transparently to increase accountability: “As taxpayer-funded schools, charter schools must operate in a manner that is transparent and accountable to the families and communities they serve.”

After-school education programs should be expanded.

What about after-school education programs? Has Bernie proposed anything on that front?

In 2015, Bernie worked on a team with Sen. Elizabeth Warren to successfully add an amendment to the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This amendment re-instated the 21st Century Community Learning Center afterschool program, which “supports afterschool, out-of-school programs and expanded learning time in schools.”

In addition to afterschool programs, Bernie strongly believes that parents must have access to affordable child care for their children while they work. Learn more about Bernie’s stance on child care.

Student Loans

Bernie has said that the levels of student debt in our country are “outrageous” and serve as a significant burden on our educated populace. He does not believe that the government should be profiting so much off of student loans, and he wants to reduce interest rates.

Student debt in this country has reached a crisis level.

What are our current levels of student debt?

According to USSA statistics, student debt levels in this country are approaching
$2 trillion. The average student loan debt neared $30,000 in 2014.

Bernie believes student loan interest rates need to be drastically reduced.

What has Bernie said about student loans and debt?

In a speech at Johnston State College in Vermont, Bernie said, “We must fundamentally restructure our student loan program. It makes no sense that students and their parents are forced to pay interest rates for higher education loans that are much higher than they pay for car loans or housing mortgages. We must also end the practice of the government making $127 billion over the next decade in profits from student loans.”

What policies has Bernie proposed about new student loans?

Bernie introduced the College for All Act, which would cut new student loan interest rates “almost in half from 4.32 percent to 2.32 percent” and cut existing debt to an interest rate of 2.35 percent.

Work Study

Bernie wants to expand work study programs to provide work experience for all students.

Bernie believes colleges and universities should expand work study programs to include all interested students.

What is work study?

Currently, work study is a need-based financial award that reimburses employers so that they can hire more low-income students.

What policies has he proposed about work study?

Bernie introduced the College for All Act, which would expand work-study programs to all students. This would create more jobs and allow students to gain work experience and additional funds, regardless of their or their families’ economic status.


The DREAM Act is legislation aimed at giving young, high-achieving undocumented immigrants a pathway to permanent residency in the United States provided they pursue higher education or serve two years in the military. Bernie strongly supports the DREAM Act and is enthusiastic about the possibility of providing a pathway to legal status for talented, hard-working young people.

What is the DREAM Act?

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act would grant conditional resident status to people who entered the United States before the age of 16, who graduate from a U.S. high school, and meet a few other requirements. Those who additionally serve in the U.S. military or attend college or university for at least two years could be eligible to receive permanent resident status.

How has Bernie supported the DREAM Act?

Bernie strongly supports the DREAM Act. In a 2015 speech, Bernie shared his approval of the DREAM Act as a way to recognize “American kids who deserve the right to legally be in the country they know as home”

In the same speech Bernie promised that if Congress did not pass comprehensive immigration reform, if elected President, he would use executive powers to provide “deportation relief to the parents of U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents and so-called DREAMers.”

Bernie supported the DREAM Act in 2007 and in 2011, he co-sponsored the reintroduction of the DREAM Act.

In 2014, Bernie criticized Obama for not doing more for DREAMers with his powers of executive action. Learn more about his immigration record.