Dirks supports Clinton’s debt-free college plan despite its financial challenges

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Though Nicholas Dirks is concerned about the financial implications of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s debt-free college plan, the UC Berkeley chancellor said he would fully support the implementation of her proposal.

After a panel discussion during the Times Higher Education, or THE, World Academic Summit on Tuesday, a THE article alleged Dirks said he does not think Clinton’s college plan is “going to happen” and that it might “control” parts of public research universities. In fact, Dirks said he did not say the proposition would affect academic independence, in an interview with The Daily Californian.

“I did not say that it would control research, but that for research-heavy universities like UC Berkeley, it would be more complicated to enact a program that would actually cover all the expenses,” Dirks said.

Clinton’s college plan proposes making education at in-state four-year public colleges and universities tuition-free for families with an income up to $125,000 by 2021 and education at community colleges entirely free. It would also provide opportunities for students to refinance their loans and require states to commit to reinvestment and reform in higher education.

At the panel, Dirks discussed funding for world-class universities with Bernd Huber, president of LMU Munich, and Lin Jianhua, president of Peking University.

According to Dirks, his comments came as a response to what Huber and Jianhua said at the panel. Huber mentioned that Germany abolished tuition fees, and Jianhua emphasized the will of the Chinese public to invest in education for future generations.

“I don’t think that we’ll get to the level of support that exists in Germany and China,” Dirks said. “The university presidents from other parts of the world thought the plan would be easy to enact because in these countries education is supported by the national government. In the U.S., higher education is supported by the state … and only research is supported by the federal government. (Clinton’s proposal) is an interesting plan, but it will require the government to work with states.”

Dirks said he does not know whether the UC system’s tuition policy would change if Clinton instituted her plan, as tuition changes are governed by the UC Board of Regents, but any federal support would benefit students directly. Dirks added that the plan would supplement other forms of support, and university financial aid would not change “as far as we know.”

The chancellor, who is set to resign once a successor is picked, also said he hopes to “be of help for the next (campus and presidential) administration to make this plan happen.”

“No one would be happier than me if this plan got implemented, but it would be very expensive,” Dirks said. “It will be a complicated political process, but if it comes out with more federal support for students, that would be fabulous.”

Contact Charlotte Kosche at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @CharlotteKosche.