Nov 18, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Mayor Pete's twist on college debt

Pete Buttigieg

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Pete Buttigieg, who recently rocketed to the top of polls in Iowa, released a $500 billion college affordability plan today, which would make public college tuition free for households earning under $100,000 and inject $120 billion into federal Pell Grants.

The big picture: It contrasts with more expansive proposals from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who want to wipe out all college tuition and debt — though nearly every 2020 contender has their own ideas.

  • The WashPost's editorial board called Buttigieg's plan "the most progressive" among 2020 Democrats "because it is more affordable and better targeted."

Why it matters: College affordability is set to be a key issue in 2020 as the American electorate undergoes a distinct shift — with millennials and Generation Zers making up 37% of eligible voters.

  • Gen Z is set to surpass the Silent Generation in voter share for the first time, a significant milestone as those new voters skew heavily liberal and are almost half non-white.
  • College students turned out to vote at double the rate in the 2018 midterms than in the 2014 cycle — a trend that seems likely to continue in 2020.

By the numbers: The class of 2018 graduated with a record average of $29,200 in loans for a bachelor's degree, but the issue of college debt affects a wider swath of the country than just current students and recent graduates.

  • Americans over 60 hold $86 billion in college debt, brought on by financing their kids' education or going back to school after the 2008 financial crisis.

The bottom line: Buttigieg, as a moderate millennial Midwestern mayor, seems uniquely suited to speak to the issue of college affordability, and that opportunity is arriving just as he peaks in the polls.

Go deeper: Buttigieg to face frontrunner scrutiny after surprise Iowa poll

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