The Free College Debate is Coming to 10 Primary States This Election Season

Election 2016
Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on January 19, 2016 at 12:49 pm
The Free College Debate is Coming to 10 Primary States This Election Season

Terrorism and gun control are the current focuses of the upcoming U.S. presidential election, but that doesn’t mean the high cost of college won’t be on many of the contenders’ agendas. With a college degree costing anywhere from $40,000 to $120,000 and the student loan debt standing at a record $1.3 trillion, voters in ten states will see a push by Democratic lawmakers to make debt-free public school a real issue this election season.

In December, lawmakers in ten states announced plans for a legislative push to bring the issue to the forefront. Teaming up with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, the lawmakers announced their intention to introduce resolutions in early primary states to draw attention to the issue. The idea behind the campaign is to make debt-free college a central campaign issue and give voters a unified Democratic message. All of the Democratic presidential candidates are in favor of some form of debt-free college and the idea has also gotten the backing of 100 members of Congress, according to the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

Dealing with the student loan debt problem

The push to make debt-free college a top issue in the election comes amid a backdrop of record student loan debt, ever-increasing college tuition and a job market that is rendering many college graduates unemployed. Of those who do land a paying job, their salary isn’t enough to live off of, let alone pay back thousands of dollars in student loans.

Default rates among student loan borrowers is also high with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau stating that more than 1 in 4 student loan borrowers are  now delinquent or in default on at least one student loan. What’s more, the Department of Education said millions of students are delinquent or delaying payments because of hardships. The student loan debt is such a problem that even working people are putting off buying a home, getting married, starting a family and saving for retirement.

America’s College Promise Act aims to achieve free college

Because of the struggles of many college students, particularly lower income ones, in July, Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia introduced the America’s College Promise Act of 2015 legislation.  Building upon President Obama’s plan to provide tuition and fees for certain community college students, the America’s College Promise Act creates a federal state partnership grant awarded to states that waive community college tuition and fees for eligible students.  Under the bill, the federal government would fund about three quarters of the national average cost of community college, which stands at about $3,800. States would be responsible for the remaining amount and must also provide plans on how to better align college education within the state.

Lawmakers began carrying the torch by proposing non-binding resolutions that demonstrate their support for free college. The state lawmakers who are joining the charge are from Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wisconsin.  The resolutions assets say that in order for the country to thrive there needs to be a well-educated workforce and that public investment in higher education is a means to that.

The lawmakers pointed to the G.I. Bill for one example and claim it resulted in a “7-to-1 return on investment” for the economy. Not to mention workers with college degrees earn more money, pay higher taxes and don’t use government services as much, all of which bodes well for the country.  The Democrats contend the best way to provide free college is by providing more federal aid to states, giving students increased financial help and identifying new ways to reduce and keep a lid on costs.

Sanders, Clinton on board with free college

Earlier this year both democrat presidential candidates announced their own takes on providing free college to all. Bernie Sanders announced his College For All Act, which he estimates will cost $47 billion a year and would go to states to provide free college. Sanders estimates total tuition at public colleges and universities amounts to $70 billion a year. Under his plan, the government would cover 67% of the cost and states would have to cover the remaining 33% of the cost.

Meanwhile presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton announced the “New College Compact” plan that would cost about $350 billion over ten years. States, under the proposal, would have to boost their spending on higher education, and public colleges and universities would have to clamp down on spending to lower the cost of a degree. Families would still have to contribute, but student loans wouldn’t be necessary to attend public colleges and universities.

Debt-free college has a lot of appeal and support by politicians but significant costs for the federal government and states could stand in the way of making these a reality.

For more political coverage, see our special Election 2016 section.

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo is a freelance journalist hailing out of Long Island, New York. She has also written for,,,, Business Insider, Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal.

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