by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Republicans and sensible liberals alike are right to point out the ample flaws in “free college” proposals, regressive policies that would amount to a government handout to the upper class. So, too, it’s worth noting and arguing that the student loan “crisis” is overblown, to say the least, even though it is a serious problem. But critics must do more than just this, and we must offer our own solutions to mounting college costs. Thankfully, Sen. Rand Paul is leading the way.
The Kentucky Republican announced a new proposal Tuesday that would reform the way students, graduates, and their families save money and pay for higher education. But unlike what socialists such as Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez have offered up, Paul’s plan would help students pay for their own education rather than shove the bill onto already-burdened taxpayers.
His bill, the Higher Education Loan Repayment and Enhanced Retirement Act, or HELPER Act for short, would allow students, families, and employers to set aside money through tax-exempt 401(k) plans and then use the funds to both pay for college and pay off student loans.
As things stand now, workers must pay off their loans with their earnings after the government has chipped away at their paychecks through what feels like endless taxes on payroll, income, and more. Yet the HELPER Act would allow workers to withdraw up to $5,250 per year from their pre-tax 401(k) plan to pay for their loans or higher education expenses.
According to Paul’s office, this means that “if two parents and their college-bound child each put aside the maximum amount of $5,250 per year, that would make a total of $15,750 pre-tax dollars per year available to pay for college.”