Less than three weeks before the Democratic National Convention, and long after the primary race was anything close to competitive, Bernie Sanders just won his biggest concession from Hillary Clinton.
Clinton, the presumptive presidential nominee, announced on Wednesday that she would support making college tuition-free for millions of students whose families make less than a certain amount, a major step toward Sanders' position.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Clinton would offer free tuition to students whose families earn less than $85,000 per year. That would rise to $125,000 per year by 2021.
Sanders—who has yet to suspend his campaign and formally endorse Clinton—applauded his Democratic rival, calling the plan "very bold."
During the Democratic primaries, Sanders and Clinton disagreed on the best way to make college affordable. Sanders supported eliminating tuition at all public colleges and universities. Clinton supported the Obama administration's goal of eliminating tuition for community colleges but chose a more moderate goal of allowing students to attend four-year institutions "debt-free."
Under Clinton's original plan, students still would have had to pay tuition to attend four-year colleges and universities, but they would have had considerably more help financing that education, with the ultimate goal of eliminating the massive student loan bills that many graduates carry with them throughout their early careers. Clinton's old plan also would have required students making use of the debt-relief program to work part-time while in school. She has also introduced a plan to defer or relieve student debt for would-be entrepreneurs.
During the early debates, Clinton defended her position not to support free tuition for all students at public colleges. "I disagree with free college for everybody," she declared at a CBS News debate in November. "I don’t think taxpayers should be paying to send Donald Trump’s kids to college." Clinton's new plan takes a step toward Sanders' position without abandoning her belief that children from wealthy families should not be offered free public tuition.
The decision to move left on college tuition this late in the primary campaign illustrates the remarkable momentum driving the movement for affordable higher education. Even Clinton's more moderate debt-free college plan was far to the left of anything proposed by the current Democratic administration. The shift within the Democratic Party has been made possible not just by the Sanders campaign but also by the relentless lobbying of groups like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, who have pushed senators and members of Congress to embrace the idea of eliminating college debt.