College for All Act Introduced
WASHINGTON, April 3 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) introduced legislation Monday to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for working families and to significantly reduce student debt.
“Higher education in America should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few,” Sanders said. “If we are to succeed in a highly competitive global economy and have the best-educated workforce in the world, public colleges and universities must become tuition-free for working families and we must substantially reduce student debt.”
“Our young people are forced to make untenable choices: going to college and taking on mountains of debt, or foregoing their college degree to work part-time or minimum wage jobs that simply won’t allow them to build a future,” Jayapal said. “The College for All Act renews our compact with our young people—and really, with our future. We’re going to piece back together the broken promises of a broken American Dream, and give back hope and opportunity to the middle class and working families across this country.”
The legislation would eliminate tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities for families making up to $125,000 – about 80 percent of the population – and make community college tuition- and fee-free for all.
Public colleges and universities are already tuition-free in many advanced countries including Germany, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
The College for All Act would also reduce crushing student loan debt loads for students and parents which now exceed Americans’ credit card debt. The bill would cut all student loan interest rates for new borrowers in half; enable existing borrowers to refinance their loans based on the interest rates available to new borrowers – less than 2 percent for federal loans made to undergraduates; and prevent the federal government from profiting off the student loan program.
Sanders introduced the bill in the Senate along with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). In the House, Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) joined Jayapal as co-sponsors of the legislation.
“At a time when college remains out of reach for far too many, this legislation would make college tuition-free for working families, reduce student debt and breathe new life into the American Dream. I am proud to stand with Senators Sanders and Warren as we work to combat our country’s college affordability crisis,” Blumenthal said.
“Generations ago, America made a commitment to provide enough free education to every American so that they could obtain a good paying job. At the time, a 12th grade education was enough to compete for a good wage. Today, post-secondary schooling is required in order to survive, and our commitment to public education should reflect that reality,” Murphy said.
“My wife and I are still paying back our student loans, but we’re some of the lucky ones who can save for our kids’ futures. Instead, too many families in Connecticut are suffocating under crushing student loan debt. We need to revolutionize the way we think about higher education and ensure colleges share responsibility for the success of their graduates. At the same time, we should make sure that cost is not a barrier to a college degree, just as it isn’t a barrier to a high school degree.”
Today, the average student takes on over $30,000 in debt to get a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university. In addition to eliminating tuition, the College for All Act would substantially reduce student debt by allowing existing federal aid to cover the cost of books, housing, transportation and the other costs of college; require the states and tribes participating in the program to cover the full cost of college for their poorest students; and triple federal investment in work study programs.
The College for All Act would also support students historically underrepresented in higher education. It would establish a dedicated grant program to eliminate or significantly reduce tuition and fees for low-income students at nonprofit historically black colleges and universities and private nonprofit minority serving institutions. It would also double funding for TRIO Programs and increase funding for the GEAR UP program so more first-generation and low-income students can enroll in and graduate college.
The bill has been endorsed by the United States Students Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the American Association of University Professors, the Asian American & Pacific Island Association of Colleges and Universities, the Service Employees International Union, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Nurses United and several other organizations.
The estimated $600 billion cost of the legislation would be paid for by a separate bill to tax Wall Street speculation. By imposing a small Wall Street speculation tax of just 0.5 percent on stock trades, a 0.1 percent fee on bonds and a 0.005 percent fee on derivatives, the tax would raise at least $600 billion over the next decade. More than 1,000 economists have endorsed a tax on Wall Street speculation and some 40 countries have already imposed a tax.