TIME Education

Senator Tim Kaine: Everyone Deserves Affordable Higher Education

Academic Hall on the campus of University of Missouri, the author's alma mater.
Michael B. Thomas—Getty Images Academic Hall on the campus of University of Missouri, the author's alma mater.

Kaine is the junior Senator for Virginia and the Democratic candidate for vice president of the United States.

Opportunities to learn should not require becoming tens of thousands of dollars in debt

When I graduated from college in 1979, education costs were manageable for many working families. By the time my own kids started college in the 2000s, it was a very different story.

So what happened?

The cost of a higher education skyrocketed by every measure. American students and graduates hold more than $1.2 trillion in debt today—and each indebted graduate can expect to owe nearly $30,000.

If you’re a current college student reading this, I want you to know that Hillary and I know what you’re going through. As the father of three, a lifelong supporter of educational opportunity for all and a former teacher at the University of Richmond’s Law School, I want to make one thing clear: We can do better.

These questions of access and affordability aren’t new to us. Hillary Clinton’s first job out of law school was working for the Children’s Defense Fund, where she went door-to-door in the fight to help kids with disabilities get the schooling they deserve. I ran a technical school in Honduras, an experience that inspired my ongoing support for those kinds of programs here at home. And my wife Anne’s decades-long career fighting for kids and families recently culminated in her service as Virginia’s Secretary of Education.

The Clinton-Kaine ticket is fully committed to sending every child in this country to world-class schools with great teachers, no matter where they come from. But higher education is a distinct challenge—which is why our plan will help anyone willing to work for a quality, affordable college degree.

Our plan would make debt-free college available to everyone, and make tuition free for in-state students from families with income under $125,000. It will free millions of Americans from the existing debt they’re struggling to pay off. And because I know that a four-year degree isn’t the only path to success, we’ll open up new opportunities for students beyond traditional degrees.

Meanwhile, institutions and states alike will have to commit to lowering costs and raising their own investments in education if they want to continue receiving federal funding. From restoring year-round Pell Grants to supporting HBCUs and on-campus childcare, our plan leverages commonsense, sustainable changes for the public good.

After all, an American with a college degree will earn about $570,000 more in their lifetime than one without—but they’ll also be expanding our national economy and building up our middle class along the way. That’s the real beauty of this plan: When everyone does their part, it’s a win-win all around.

But then there’s Donald Trump’s plan—or lack thereof.

Though he brags about his own four-year degree from an Ivy League school, he has no intention of offering anyone else the same opportunity. Trump University, currently the subject of multiple class-action lawsuits, made a mockery of higher education while its namesake and his cronies unapologetically scammed thousands of student out of thousands of dollars.

Trump has long said that the United States spends too much on education. Instead of reconsidering how that money should be spent, he wants to all but nix the Department of Education, an agency that offers an array of resources to support our most vulnerable students. Hillary wants to build on what works there; Trump wants to pull the rug out from under everyone not in his tax bracket.

Hillary and I believe passionately in advancing educational opportunity from pre-k through higher education and career and technical training. Trump chose a running mate, Mike Pence, who as Governor of Indiana turned down millions of federal dollars that could have expanded access to preschool for low-income kids and cut funding for schools serving Indiana’s most vulnerable students.

When it comes to expanding access to higher education, the choice in November is clear. We’re siding with students and with every American seeking an affordable college degree.

I hope you join us!

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