FRANKFORT, Ky. — On Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez participated in a roundtable discussion with residents of Kentucky. During the discussion — which was hosted by Mic and will be broadcast on Facebook at 9 p.m. Eastern — one participant expressed his skepticism about Sanders' plan for tuition-free college.
"College tuition — free tuition for everybody — it sounds great," 24-year-old Kentucky resident Wesley Watkins said. "What starts that competitiveness for those scholarships, those opportunities in high school, because I'm going to be going for free anyway?"
Shortly after he posed the question, another participant jumped in to respond.
"I grew up in a blue-collar family," Dana Beasley-Brown, a working mother from Bowling Green, said. Beasley-Brown then began to tear up as she recounted the story of how she scraped and saved to make her way through college.
"I looked for scholarships," she said. "I didn't have anyone helping me. I had no time for anyone helping me to prepare for standardized tests like the ACT and SAT."
"But they tell poor kids as long as you work really hard and get a good education, you can be anything you want to be," she went on. "So I did work really hard and I did get a good education. I got great grades at a local university, but I went on Pell Grant. This was during the Bush administration, and every year funding for Pell Grants eroded. And, by my senior year, I had to go hungry at the end of each month because I couldn't feed myself. I was engaged at the time to my husband now, and I didn't even tell him that until a few years ago because I had such shame."
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Sanders laid out a plan to make public colleges tuition-free across the country, and he's continued to push for similar measures in Congress since the election.
After Beasley-Brown finished speaking, Sanders thanked her for her story and reiterated his support for free public college.
"I believe, especially when we have an economy that is undergoing radical change, it is very hard to get a decent-paying job now with a high school degree," Sanders said at the roundtable. "I think that sends a powerful message to every family in this country, that if your kids study hard and they do well, as Dana did, you are going to be able to make it into college."
You can watch Mic's roundtable with Sen. Sanders and Tom Perez on our Facebook page Tuesday at 9 p.m. Eastern. Find out more about the roundtable here.