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Dem Leader Fears Bernie's Free College Plan Would Hurt Black Colleges

Google software engineer Sabrina Williams, right, talks with students during a Google Student Development class at Howard University in Washington on April 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

The assistant Democratic leader in the House fears that Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) free college proposal will end up hurting historically black colleges and universities.

Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), who’s supporting Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, told MSNBC on Thursday that he’s “convinced that she’s leading by plenty” in his home state.

While Sanders leads Clinton by an average of 17 points in New Hampshire polls, Clinton leads Sanders in South Carolina by 29 points in polls that were conducted in mid-January.

“I stay in close touch with the faith community. I stay in close touch with beauty and barbershops all over my state. From what I’m hearing, it would be a firewall today,” Clyburn claimed.

“Now two and a half weeks from now, we’ll have to see. There will be two contests between now and then. New Hampshire and then there’s going to be Nevada before we get to South Carolina. And anything can change in that time, but as of today, she’s real strong in South Carolina.”

Clyburn chalked up Clinton’s problem with young voters as “generational,” even though Sanders is 6 years older than Clinton.

“Young people want to be made comfortable with your plans for the future. And I really believe that both candidates, to the extent to which they articulate their visions for the future, so these young people can feel that they’ll be able to afford a college education and pay for it,” he said.

“Now, I’m not a big proponent of free public schools because I believe that’s a recipe for closing down all the HBCUs in my district. Bill Clinton is going to be at Allen University tonight. That’s an AME school. If the students there were to get free public education across town somewhere, why would they go to Allen University or to Claflin or to Benedict, for that matter?”

HBCUs, historically black colleges and universities that allow all races to apply, date back to the 19th century through the pre-Civil Rights Movement 20th century.

Clyburn stressed “a lot of these things have to be discussed, have to be thought through and I believe the extent to which these candidates explain what they really mean by an affordable education will determine how these young people view them.”

As far as what Hillary needs to do to win those young Bernie voters, though, the congressman reasoned that “people are very quick to react to free versus that which is affordable.”

“And I think to make it affordable you have to explain. And I don’t think the explanation has to be a long one,” he continued. “The fact of the matter is, if a young person borrows money to go to college, that person ought to be able to afford to pay it back. And Democrats have been doing a good job with making these student loans affordable and it’s been my colleagues on the other side who’s got these interest rates so high that young people are having trouble paying for it.”

“So I think that’s what you have to do. Let people know that you have certain responsibilities so if we make the education affordable then you ought to do your part to pay for it.”

During Thursday night’s MSNBC debate, Clinton said she wants to “go down a path where we can actually tell people what we will do.”

“I also believe in affordable college, but I don’t believe in free college, because every expert that I have talked to says, look, how will you ever control the costs,” she said. “What I want to do is make sure middle class kids, not Donald Trump’s kids, get to be able to afford college.”

Sanders retorted that “when we talk about public education, it can no longer be K through 12th grade.”

“I do believe that public colleges and universities should be tuition free. Well, how do we pay for that? It’s an expensive proposition,” he said. “I do believe that we should substantially lower student debt in this country, which is crushing millions of people. We pay for it, in my view, by a tax on Wall Street speculation. The middle class bailed out Wall Street in their time of need. Now, it is Wall Street’s time to help the middle class.”