Getty Images

One of the reasons college is so prohibitively expensive is that "some colleges and universities that are spending a huge amount of money on fancy dormitories and on giant football stadiums," Senator Bernie Sanders said during Saturday night's Democratic debate in Manchester, N.H.

"Maybe we should focus on quality education with well-paid faculty members. And I understand in many universities a heck of a lot of vice presidents earn a big salary," he said.

Officials at public schools do tend to be better compensated than professors. Football and basketball coaches at large state colleges are often the highest-paid public employees in many states, as Deadspin reported in 2013. The increases in pay for public university presidents and coaches has far outstripped increases for professors, according to an annual study from the American Association of University Professors. The study found that public university presidents at doctoral colleges saw an 11.3% median pay rise between 2007 and 2014, while professors at those universities had just a 2.2% median pay rise in that same period. It also found that median salaries for head football coaches increased 93% between 2006 and 2012.

Advertisement

Saturday night's debate was held at Saint Anslem College in New Hampshire. Sanders was responding to a question from the executive director of the college's Institute of Politics, Neil Levesque, who asked how, in practice, the Vermont senator would make college more affordable.

"We know you want to make public education more affordable but how do you really lower the cost," asked Levesque. "Senator Sanders, you mentioned a few minutes ago that you want free tuition for public colleges. How does that really lower the cost other than just shifting the cost to taxpayers?"

Sanders said he would make public colleges and universities tuition-free by introducing a speculation tax on Wall Street, and would provide students with lower interest loans to get through college without coming out with crippling debt.

Sponsored

"We should look at college today the way high school was looked at 60 years ago. All young people who have the  ability should be able to get a college education," he said.

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the two other candidates in the debate, went on to talk about their plans, which use different tactics to provide states with more higher education funds.

O'Malley said that as president he'd provide states with grants to spend on higher education in whatever way they saw fit, and would introduce an income-based repayment plan for loans (meaning that repayments would be based on how much an individual is earning after college).

Clinton's plan is to match state funding for higher education with federal funds, and to re-direct Pell grant aid to be usable for students' living expenses. She re-iterated her position that relieving the burden on lower income and middle class students was the goal of her plan.

Advertisement

"I don't believe in free tuition for everybody. I believe we should focus on middle-class families, working families and poor kids who have the ambition and the talent to go to college and get ahead."

Clinton said that she has more donors among college students and teachers than she does donors on Wall Street. "I think it's important to point out that about 3% of my donations come from people in the finance and investment world," she said. "You can go to opensecrets.org and check that. I have more donations from students and teachers than I do from people associated with Wall Street."

Advertisement

As FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver pointed out, that's maybe not so impressive, given the simple fact that there are more students and teachers in America than people working on Wall Street: