Presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (D) of Vermont is planning to unveil a bill that, if passed, will make tuition at four-year public colleges and universities free.
In addition to eliminating college tuition at public colleges, Mr. Sanders' bill would expand work-study programs, and seeks to lower student debt and student loan rates – a system modeled after those of European countries such as Germany, Sweden, and Denmark.
Earlier this year, Sanders called for free tuition for college freshman and sophomores, and recently other liberal politicians have also taken up the cause of making college more affordable for American students as well.
"We live in a highly competitive global economy and, if our economy is to be strong, we need the best-educated workforce in the world,” Sanders said in a statement released Sunday. “That will not happen if, every year, hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, and if millions more leave school deeply in debt.”
To fulfill this goal, Sanders had called on state governments to invest $18 billion public higher education each year in order to meet his original goal of free tuition for college freshman and sophomores. Sanders has also frequently emphasized the need to invest in students and end the Department of Education’s practice of profiting off student loan debt.
“As a nation, we must shift our priorities to ensure every student, regardless of their family’s economic situation, can get a college education without being forced to take on a crushing debt that will follow them for years and years,” Sanders said.
In January, President Obama announced a new initiative to provide two years of community college education for free to “everybody who is willing to work for it.” This proposal was met with a variety of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, who pointed out that for many low-income students, community college is already free through Pell grants, and free tuition does not necessarily lead to higher graduation rates.
The nature of this criticism suggests that perhaps student loan reform would be a more effective and plausible way of expanding educational opportunities in America than making tuition free altogether.
Fixing the student debt crisis is an issue Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton took up in her 2008 campaign and will likely make a part of her 2016 platform as well, although she has yet to announce her official plan.
“The crisis of student loan debt is even slowing small business creation and innovation. During our ramp-up period, she is discussing ideas like this and, in the months ahead, she will roll out her detailed plan to tackle big issues like this one,” said Mrs. Clinton's spokesperson Jesse Ferguson, when asked about debt-free college.
Sanders will present his bill to the senate on Tuesday, May 19.