Senator Bernie Sanders Introduces Bill to Make Public College Free for Everyone

Election 2016
Posted By Abby Perkins on May 20, 2015 at 3:04 pm
Senator Bernie Sanders Introduces Bill to Make Public College Free for Everyone

U.S. senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders recently introduced a bill that would make tuition free at all public four-year colleges in the United States. Sanders’ College for All Act, which was brought before the Senate on Tuesday, would split the cost of public college tuition between federal and state governments.

In a statement about the bill, Sanders’ said:

It is a national disgrace that hundreds of thousands of young Americans today do not go to college, not because they are unqualified, but because they cannot afford it. This is absolutely counterproductive to our efforts to create a strong competitive economy and a vibrant middle class. This disgrace has got to end.

In a global economy, when our young people are competing with workers from around the world, we have got to have the best educated workforce possible. And, that means that we have got to make college affordable. We have got to make sure that every qualified American in this country who wants to go to college can go to college — regardless of income.

Along with free tuition for public universities, the bill also proposes an expansion of work-study programs at private colleges, as well as a reduction in interest rates on federal student loans. Sanders’ program would cost an estimated $70 billion per year – according to the Washington Post, about $10 billion more than President Obama’s proposal for free community college that was introduced earlier this year.  The federal government would assume two-thirds of that cost, which would be offset by increasing taxes on hedge funds, investment firms and other Wall Street institutions.

As for the colleges? To qualify for the program, public institutions would need to maintain higher education spending, as well as minimize their reliance on underpaid adjunct faculty. They would also be required to hire new professors and provide professional development for existing ones. Moreover, federal funding from the program could not be used on administrator salaries, merit-based financial aid or campus construction projects.

While Sanders’ bill is unlikely to pass through the Republican Congress, higher education experts see potential problems with it in any case. Speaking to the Washington Post, Iris Palmer of the New America Foundation questioned whether the model would be sustainable:

What happens at the next recession when the money from Wall Street drops and the number of students enrolling in college swells? How could a program like this be sustained? And how would you keep institutions from consistently increasing what they say it costs to educate a student?

Other concerns include the compliance and regulation required to implement the bill, as well as states’ willingness to invest in higher education spending.

However, some see the bill as, at the very least, a framework for a potential future plan for free college. Slate writer Jordan Weissman writes that “the senator is offering a very rational framework for how we theoretically could make higher ed more affordable, even if we chose a different way to pay for it.”

Sanders’ proposal is just one (more ambitious) part of a larger push for more federal attention on college tuition and student debt. Democrats, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, have made higher educational reform a major part of their platforms in recent months, and advisors behind Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton have also floated the possibility of debt-free college.

Image: Albert H. Teich, Shutterstock

Abby Perkins
Email | Twitter | LinkedIn Abby Perkins attended Davidson College, where she graduated with a B.A. and Honors in English and wrote for The Davidsonian newspaper. Abby's work has been featured on Yahoo! Finance and Entrepreneur. As Managing Editor, Abby is a regular contributor to the GoodCall newsroom, covering education and financial aid.

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