Sanders’ bill would reform student loans and financial aid and use federal funds to eliminate tuition at public colleges
On Tuesday, Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders (D) unveiled his College for All Act, which would provide $47 billion per year to eliminate tuition and fees at public colleges and universities.
If the bill passes, the federal government will cover 67 percent of the cost of public higher education and state governments will cover the remaining 33 percent, with federal funding contingent on states meeting quality of education standards outlined in the bill. Free public higher education under the bill would be funded by a “Robin Hood Tax,” which would impose a fee on Wall Street transactions such as investment properties, hedge funds and stock trades. The bill also includes student loan, work study and financial aid reforms.
In a speech introducing the legislation, Sanders said the U.S. is in the midst of a higher education “crisis.”
“Too many young people cannot afford a college education, and those who are leaving college are faced with crushing debt,” Sanders said. “It is a national disgrace that hundreds of thousands of young Americans today do not go to college — not because they are not qualified, but because they cannot afford it.”
According to outreach officer for United States Student Association, College of Letters and Science collegiate senator and second-year history of public policy major Stevan Abdalmalik, the University of California has lowered the cost of education by approximately $5,000 since 1990 by raising class sizes and reducing faculty, but tuition continues to increase due to lack of government funding.
“The issue of higher education in this country is one of state and federal disinvestment,” Abdalmalik said. “In the ’70s, you had the state government in California funding our university, the University of California, at about $20,000 a student. Now, in 2015, they are funding us at about $11,000 a student, meaning that the University of California has to cover the lost cost by raising tuition.”
UCSB College Republicans President and second-year physics and philosophy double major Daniel Reardon said tuition rises largely because universities “waste” money on “unnecessary administrative jobs, which could remain a problem even with increase government funding.”
“I think we really need to look at the reason school has gotten so expensive,” Reardon said in an email. “Simply asking for more funding might seem like a solution, but it might just allow the inefficient use of funds to continue.”
According to Sanders, the growing cost of higher education adversely affects the country’s economic future.
“This is absolutely counterproductive to our efforts to create a strong competitive economy and a vibrant middle class,” Sanders said. “In a global economy, when our young people are competing with workers from around the world, we have to have the best educated workforce possible, and that means that we have got to make college affordable.”
Abdalmalik also said the cost of education has country-wide economic repercussions.
“It’s not only better for our higher education to make it free and push for that goal, but it’s better for the entire county for our young graduates not to have debt bubbles, because it helps our economy,” Abdalmalik said.
Sanders said countries such as Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland have benefited economically from eliminating tuition for public higher education.
“Other countries recognize that allowing all qualified students, regardless of income, to achieve a higher education is an investment in the economic prosperity of their people,” Sanders said.
But Reardon said these countries are smaller, more “culturally and politically uniform” and under different economic constraints than the U.S.
“They can afford to spend more money on these things because they do not have a military or prison system anywhere close to the size of ours, and they run them entirely differently,” Reardon said in an email. “The fact that these things work for those countries is not very strong evidence that it will work for us.”
According to Sanders, 40 million Americans have more than $1.2 trillion worth of student loan debt, making them unable to participate in the economy in ways past generations have.
“It is unacceptable that millions of college graduates cannot afford to buy their first home of their first new car because of the high interest rates they are paying on student debt,” Sanders said.
Abdalmalik said state and federal legislatures should take further action to address the student loan debt of recent graduates.
“You also need legislation backed by the state and federal government that would help lower student loans,” Abdalmalik said.
According to Abdalmalik, Sanders’ bill will especially benefit first-generation UC students, given they make up 41 percent of UC undergraduates receiving Pell Grants, which congress will cut by $1,000 per student next year.
“By making education free, you actually help low-income, first-generation college students who normally wouldn’t have had the chance to go to college in the first place,” Abdalmalik said.
A version of this story appeared on page 5 of Thursday, May 21, 2015’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.