Senator Bernie Sanders pushed new legislation on Monday for free community college in all states. He also wants free tuition for those attending four-year public universities whose family income is $125,000 or less. His proposal would also provide a 50 percent lower interest rate for new borrowers on student loans and allow refinancing for the same rate.
The bill received co-sponsorship from Senator Elizabeth Warren and four other Democrats. A companion bill was presented in the House on Tuesday by Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and 14 other sponsors.
While Sanders originally introduced the measure two years ago, it did not gain wide attention until Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. His current legislation stops short of requesting free college for everyone at any income level.
If passed, both the states and the federal government would pay for the tuition, with the feds being responsible for 67 percent or about $41 billion. The money would be raised through taxes placed on stock trading. The states would have to figure out their own systems.
The free tuition idea is already in place and working with community colleges in Oregon and Tennessee. The city of San Francisco is expected to start a free tuition program in the fall of 2017. Rhode Island and New York are considering free tuition in their respective budgets.
A public four-year college averages about $10,000 per year in tuition with community colleges coming in at about $3,500. A free tuition program would not include room and board, which can run an additional $10,000 each school year.
There is plenty of criticism for free tuition proposals. Public universities are worried that if such legislation goes into effect, there will be an avalanche of enrollment, leaving the schools desperate for support. Private colleges think free tuition at public schools creates an unfair advantage.
Other critics say that free tuition plans do not assist very poor students, who are already attending college on state aid and grants. There is also concern that some students who do not want a degree will attend for a while before leaving school, which would be a waste of funds.
Supporters of the bill say it would encourage more people to attend college, especially those who never thought they could because of income or other reasons. This would be a positive trend because research has shown that those who have a college degree tend to make more money and have a better quality of life than those who do not.