by Mary Ellen Flannery
As college costs and student debt in the U.S. continue to rise and countless Americans are priced out of the American Dream, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) have offered a solution to the issues of college affordability.
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Their bill, called “College For All” and introduced to Congress earlier this month, would make community college free for all and public universities free for the majority of Americans. It also would significantly reduce student debt.
“Higher education in America should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few,” said Sanders.
Specifically, the College for All Act would:
- Eliminate tuition and fees for all community college students.
- Eliminate tuition and fees for public college and university students whose families make $125,000 or less—about 80 percent of all Americans.
- Eliminate or significantly reduce tuition and fees at public and private Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and other Minority Serving Institutions.
- Cut student loan interest rates in half, and ensure that they never rise above 5 percent for undergraduates.
- Allow borrowers to refinance their student loans at the lowest rate possible.
The estimated $600 billion cost of the legislation would be paid by a separate bill to tax Wall Street speculation.
“This is the kind of legislation that can transform our students’ lives, that can help them access the higher education they need to realize their dreams, and to become the teachers, scientists, and entrepreneurs that our nation needs,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “This bill would go a long way to restoring public investment in the public good that is higher education.”
With college costs and student debt becoming an increasingly high barrier to higher education—and with a college degree necessary for the vast majority of jobs in the U.S.—more and more lawmakers are seeking solutions.
A high school diploma alone is not enough to be successful in today’s workforce and the ability to attend community college is the primary way that many people—especially those who have been historically shut out of education—can economically grow,” Rep. Jayapal told Education Votes.
“Today, too many students have to make a choice to go to college and be $40,000 in debt—or to skip college and hope they can still have a future,” says Jayapal. “That’s just wrong.”
Jayapal points out that free college—and other college affordability measures—aren’t viewed as partisan issues in many states. In Tennessee, Republican lawmakers implemented a free two-year college program called the “Tennessee Promise,” which has sent 33,000 recent high school graduates to community college for free, and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam recently announced plans to also open the doors of community colleges to millions of adults—for free.
In Oregon, the Democrat-led “Oregon Promise” paid for nearly 7,000 students to attend community college for free this year.
More recently, this month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, signed into law the “Excelsior Scholarship” program, which makes New York state universities free for families earning up to $100,000. (The income cap goes up to $125,000 in 2019.) About 940,000 families with college-aged students will be eligible for the scholarships, the governor’s office has said. The scholarships will turn into loans if the recipients do not stay and work in New York after graduation.