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Pete Buttigieg on free college: The 'lucky 10%' should pay their own tuition

Senator Elizabeth Warren criticizes South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg during the sixth 2020 U.S. Democratic presidential candidates campaign debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 19, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Mike Blake)

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren made her familiar pitch to make public colleges and universities tuition-free and to cancel student debt during Thursday night’s Democratic debate.

But her opponent, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, said that he was opposed to making college free for all, especially the very wealthy.

“I do think that if you're in that lucky top 10%, I still wish you well, don't get me wrong, I just want you to go ahead and pay your own tuition,” Buttigieg said at Thursday night’s debate. “There is a very real choice on where every one of these tax dollars goes. So I very much agree with Senator Warren on raising more tax revenue from millionaires and billionaires. I just don't agree on the part about spending it on millionaires and billionaires when it comes to their college tuition.”

‘I believe in the concept of universality’

There are currently 44 million borrowers owing more than $1.5 trillion in outstanding student debt. Many borrowers — from students who attended schools that lost accreditation, to those waiting for public service loan forgiveness, to parents struggling with their children’s student loans — are feeling acute pain from the financial burden.

Buttigieg had previously taken an advertisement out in Iowa, aimed at Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) without naming them directly, stressing that unlike them, he wouldn’t make college “free even for the kids of millionaires.”

Instead, the mayor has said he wants to cancel student debt for borrowers in “low-quality … for profit-programs,” and make four-year public colleges free for families that earn less than $100,000 a year. Buttigieg estimates that this represents 80% of students attending such colleges.

Twitter users quickly pointed out how his idea to subject students to “means testing” was not a feasible approach.

When the Iowa ad came out, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweeted that universal public systems are “designed to benefit EVERYBODY!”

She added that we “don’t ban the rich from public schools, firefighters, or libraries [because] they are public goods.”

During the debate, Sanders and Warren both also dismissed Buttigieg’s idea of leaving billionaires’ children out.

“I believe in the concept of universality,” Sanders said. “Donald Trump's kids can go to a public school, they should be able to go into a public school. What we need right now is a revolution in education.”

Touching on her billionaire wealth tax, Warren added: “Look, the mayor wants billionaires to pay one tuition for their own kids. I want a billionaire to pay enough to cover tuition for all of our kids.”

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Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at aarthi@yahoofinance.com. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami

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