First, note that it is free at _public_ colleges and universities -- this isn't, here's money you can spend at any institute of higher education. And it is _tuition_, not books, fees, living expenses. Also, it isn't _all_ public colleges and universities. The balance of the page discusses changes to student loans and grants, and paying for all of this with a tax on financial transactions.
Now, I have a degree from a public university, the University of Washington. And while a variety of federal money arrives at the UW in a variety of forms, it's not most of the money that is used to run the school. So I had to wonder, what exactly did the Sanders' policy team have in mind to convince the UW not to charge for tuition any more?
Discusses this a little and includes a link to this:
Basically, federal grant money that states would apply for. However, we've seen what happened with the Affordable Care Act. A lot of states never did set up their own exchanges, nor did they take the money to expand Medicare. It is not unreasonable to expect that, EVEN IF Sanders' proposal came to pass, some states would decline the money. And there wouldn't be any money for the students in those states to go to a public college or university in another state. (And, honestly, there was a huge judicial effort to halt access to subsidies, but that, fortunately, failed.)
Vox points out that Sanders himself is misrepresenting this, when he suggests that students in states that don't enact their part of the deal could just go to school elsewhere, when nothing in his plan provides for that.
I understand the appeal of free public education after K-12. I do. But I think this is a sufficiently complex area that we probably should spend a long while talking about it and figuring out what that should look like, before we bite off anything huge. And honestly, I greatly prefer the Obama, community college based approach over Sanders' much larger proposal:
That has a link to the official plan:
ETA: I particularly liked that Obama's approach builds on recent, state and city level programs (Tennessee and Chicago) that make community college tuition free. I like that a lot better than, "Well, in Germany . . ." or, This One College a Long Time Ago, etc. And I _really_ like the emphasis on graduation rates and job placement. I know a lot of people out there rightly value a liberal arts education, but one of the issues I have with the idea of free public college and university tuition is the potential to even further separate kids from sitting down and coming up with some sort of life plan.