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: All public colleges and universities should be tuition free, and all current student loan debt should be canceled.

Early Childhood Education: We need high-quality, affordable early childhood education.

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

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

Student Loans: Student loan interest rates should be heavily reduced and all current student debt should be canceled. 

K-12 Education: No Child Left Behind should be seriously overhauled. We need to reinvest in public schools and teachers.  and rebuild crumbling and unsafe schools.

Work Study: Colleges and universities should expand work study programs to include all interested students.

DREAMers: Children brought into America undocumented at a young age need to be given a fair and attainable opportunity to remain in the U.S., get an education, and contribute to the economy.

Increase Teacher Pay: Teachers are not being paid enough for the important role they play in our society.

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?”

Bernie has released a comprehensive plan, College for All and Cancel Student Debt, with the goal of making public universities, colleges and trade schools tuition free, increasing funding for HBCUs and MSIs, cancelling student debt, and much more.


All public colleges and universities should be tuition free.

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, the cost of college is astronomically expensive for all but the wealthiest of families.

Because of this, many families save a large portion of their income to send their kids to college. Many students and families must take out loans that can haunt them for decades after graduation. Unfortunately, too many students are forced to drop out or avoid going to college because they cannot afford it.

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. 

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. Freeing up this liquid capital will allow this large percentage of Americans to spend their income more freely on goods and services like clothing, electronics, entertainment, and recreation. Additionally, students burdened with high debt put off buying homes, cars, having children, and even saving for retirement. In other words, alleviating the burden of college tuition will not only help those burdened with debt but it will also 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 can make itself a stronger 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.

I know people who have done quite well without a college degree. Is higher education really that important?

Yes. A college education may be more important now than ever before. The New York Times researched the question: Is college worth it? Their answer? “Yes, college is worth it, and it’s not even close.” In fact, their analysis found that “[t]he pay gap between college graduates and everyone else reached a record high” in  2013.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics chart below shows just how much having a college degree affects both employment rates and wages.

Educational attainment even affects health outcomes. A report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development states: “Those with more years of schooling tend to have better health and well-being and healthier behaviors. Education is an important mechanism for enhancing the health and well-being of individuals because it reduces the need for health care, the associated costs of dependence, lost earnings and human suffering. It also helps promote and sustain healthy lifestyles and positive choices, supporting and nurturing human development, human relationships and personal, family and community well-being.” 

People can certainly succeed without a bachelor’s degree, however education attainment has a large influence in determining life outcomes.

There is a caveat. A college degree does not have the same value for all students. Family income of college students has a significant impact on the value of a college degree for future earnings. A recent study found that college graduates from lower income backgrounds earn 71 percent higher lifetime earnings than people with just a high-school diploma but much less than college graduates from wealthier backgrounds, who benefit a lot more from getting a college degree.

How much does a college education cost?

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.


And don’t blame it on inflation: 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 $9,000. That’s an increase of over eleven-fold. Read more about the soaring costs of college here.

Paying for a college degree is not like it was 30 years ago For most students stagnant wages and high tuition costs make it impossible for them to work their way through college. Another reason for the increasing reliance on loans 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.

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.

What has Bernie done to make college more affordable?

To increase access to higher education, Bernie has introduced the College for All Act in 2015 and 2017. This proposed legislation would eliminate 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. 

Here is what the College for All Act will do:

  • Make public colleges, universities, and trade schools tuition-free.
  • Fully fund Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
  • Forgive existing student debt.
  • Fully paid for by imposing a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street.

In this video, Bernie explains the case for tuition-free college.

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 supports investing heavily in early childhood education, which includes universal Pre-K as well as educational supportive programs. This will give all children the opportunity to develop, learn, and reach their highest potential. As a former preschool educator, Bernie said, “in a society with our resources, it is unconscionable that we do not properly invest in our children from the very first stages of their lives.”

Bernie has called the lack of support for universal early education programs is tantamount to “turn[ing] back on children” and “disgraceful.”

Where do we stand compared to the rest of the world when it comes to early childhood education?

According to a 2016 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, out of 72 countries, the U.S. is ranked 18th for reading literacy, 35th in mathematical literacy, 21st in science literacy, and 25th overall in secondary education. The U.S. ranks 12th in student truancy and 28th in life satisfaction – being satisfied with the life they are leading at school and at home.

In a Unicef report about 41 developed countries the U.S. ranks 32 for quality education and 36 for good health and well-being.

In most developed countries education begins well before 5 years of age, usually at age 3 or 4. Wealthier countries spend between 0.5% and 15 of GDP on early childhood education. Less developed countries spend less but have 200 million children under five that suffer from the negative impact of poverty, hunger and inadequate learning opportunities.

The comparison of what the U.S. spends with other countries spend for early childhood education is somewhat misleading. Unlike other countries, the U.S. has no uniform pre-K program with set standards to ensure the public expenditures and additional costs to parents are tied to good developmental and educational outcomes. Currently many states use a Quality Rating Improvement SystemQRIS to improve the availability and quality of early education programs but this piecemeal effort is inadequate and does not create a widely available quality pre-K program that meets the needs of all American children. 

Those are just meaningless numbers, right?

Wrong. If we had closed the education gap by 1998, it’s estimated that our GDP could have increased by $2.3 trillion higher by 2008.

Ouch. So, what has Bernie done to try to improve early childhood education?

Early education is critical to later success. If we want to close this gap we must focus on young children during critical stages of development and learning. Many states are using a Quality Rating Improvement SystemQRIS to improve the availability and quality of early education programs.

In 2011, Bernie introduced the Foundations for Success Act which proposed a universal pre-kindergarten program. If it had passed, the bill would have awarded a grant to ten states that would allow them to create an Early Care and Education System. Some of the benefits include: providing all state residents with the opportunity to enroll children, ages six weeks to kindergarten age, in an early care and education program on a full time basis. This bill would give each child an opportunity to develop physical, social, and emotional skills; and improve school readiness by contributing to the cognitive development, character skills, and physical development of each child.

Bernie: “We must do away with the archaic notion that education begins at four or five years old. For far too long, our society has undervalued the need for high-quality and widely accessible early childhood education.” (February 2014).

Bernie has made enacting a universal pre-K program a key part of his 2020 platform. When asked at a CNN town hall whether or not he supported universal pre-kindergarten education, Bernie gave an succinct response: “Absolutely.”

Ok, but how are we going to pay for this?

Bernie proposes a tax on Wall Street speculation to pay for universal Pre-K. An economist from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities wrote an op-ed in the New York Times analyzing the proposal:

“An itty-bitty, one-basis-point transaction tax (a basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point, or 0.01 percent) would raise $185 billion over 10 years, according to new estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. That would be enough to finance an ambitious expansion of prekindergarten programs for 3- and 4-year-olds and restore funding of college assistance for low-income students.”


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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

In a speech at Johnson 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.

Alongside U.S House Representatives Ilhan Omar and Pramila Jayapal, Bernie proposed a plan to eliminate all student debt with a tax on stock trades as well as fees on bonds and derivatives.

Bernie has also called on Secretary Betsy DeVos’ office to acquire a more frequent use of the borrower defense rule to apply for students who were defrauded by colleges with student loans. He renewed this effort on the calls in 2019.

What about people with current student loans?

Bernie has proposed to entirely cancel student loan debt with a tax on Wall Street speculation.

“Let’s be clear: The younger generation was dealt an enormous blow by the Wall Street crash of 2008 and the Great Recession that followed. Millions of them saw their parents lose their jobs, homes, and life savings because of the greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior of a handful of financial executives. While those financial executives were rescued by the government, young people were told to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps—specifically, by getting a higher education. But as financial support from state governments declined, millions of them graduated college or dropped out of college with suffocating and oppressive debt. In the wealthiest country in human history, it does not have to be this way—and in fact, it was not this way for earlier generations.”

Overhaul the K-12 Education System

Bernie is proposing a complete overhaul of the education system.  He has proposed the Thurgood Marshall Education plan for public education and wants to reinvest in public schools and teachers.  He is calling for rebuilding the nations infrastructure, especially crumbling and unsafe schools.

Bernie strongly opposes the No Child Left Behind Act and has called for a more holistic method of education that gives teachers more flexibility and students more support systems. Bernie supports a system that focuses on task-based assignments to determine students’ progress rather than evaluating students based on their understanding of the curriculum and their ability to use it creatively. 

Bernie said: “We want kids to be creative. We want kids to be critical thinkers. We also want schools held accountable for factors other than test scores, including how they meet the challenges of students from low-income families.” 

Bernie believes that teaching should be one of the best paying, not among the worst paying jobs in the United States. The two largest teachers unions in the country the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers  strongly oppose vouchers. So, does Bernie, he is against using publicly funded vouchers to pay for children to attend private and religious schools. 

Bernie co-sponsored an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to reduce class size to 18 for children in grades 1 to 3. Bernie supported Fix America’s Schools Today Act (FAST) of 2011, which would allocate $25 billion to renovate or repair elementary schools. He believes schools should be able to afford small class sizes and programs like art, music, and physical education.

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

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.”

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”.

Charter Schools

Bernie opposes 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.”

Work Study

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.


There are millions of young, undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children and due to their legal status, are unable to pursue educational and work opportunities that would allow them and our economy to prosper.

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 cosponsored the reintroduction of the DREAM Act.

In 2014, Bernie criticized Obama for not doing more for DREAMers with his powers of executive action. Check out our other article to learn more about his immigration record.

Increase Teacher Pay

Teachers are not paid enough for the important work they do and Bernie supports teachers as they fight for decent wages.

There is an enormous gap between teachers salaries in different states. Low pay, large classes and funding cuts have lead to many recent teacher strikes including in West Virginia, California, Colorado, Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, Kentucky, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Oklahoma teacher salaries went up substantially after a nine-day strike in the spring of 2018. 

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.”