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Debt-Free College Act Reintroduced in U.S. Senate

Debt-Free College Act Reintroduced in U.S. Senate

Bill creates a pathway to debt-free college while closing the racial and economic gap in higher education

Washington, D.C. – On Wednesday, March 6, 2019, the Debt-Free College Act was reintroduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), with the support of over 30 Congressional co-sponsors. First introduced in 2018, the Debt-Free College Act offers bold solutions to tackle the growing college affordability crisis by creating a path for students to graduate without the burden of debt incurred from the cost of attending college.

“Quality higher education is one of the surest paths to economic opportunity and financial security for young people,” said Reid Setzer, Young Invincibles’ Director of Public Policy. “This bill is among the few to offer real solutions to the challenges facing America’s increasingly diverse student population. By addressing the total cost of attendance and targeting aid first to those most in need, this bill attacks the systemic barriers faced by many of today’s students, as well as expands tuition relief for all students and families.”

Today, over 44 million Americans have student loans, totaling more than $1.56 trillion. In 2016, 42 percent of black students had student debt compared to 34 percent of white families. Furthermore, black students hold $7,400 more debt than their white counterparts and students of color report financial burden as a major factor in dropping out of college. The Debt-Free College Act would help close racial and economic attainment gaps in higher education through state-federal partnerships that prioritize low-income students and other communities that have historically faced additional barriers to degree attainment, like DREAMers.

“I pursued higher education to build a future, but now I feel like my future is buried,” said Allyson Nolde, a Master of Public Administration student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “It’s unfair that I was made to choose between affording an education that is now mandatory to earn a living wage and investing in the next chapter of my life. I imagine most college grads feel the same, and that is problematic on a much larger scale. Something needs to change.”

The bill would also:

  • Create a voluntary state-federal partnership that would allow states and the federal government to work hand-in-hand to increase investment in public higher education and enable students to attend public colleges around the country debt-free.

  • Incentivize state reinvestment and innovation with a dollar-for-dollar match of state higher education appropriations from the federal government.

  • Require participating states to submit a plan to achieve debt-free college for all in-state students within five years, through increased state-level grant funding for tuition and full cost of attendance.

  • Give states the flexibility to meet the unique needs of their student bodies by using up to 10% of their partnership awards towards supporting capacity-building at the institutional level, supporting degree completion programs, and investing in other approaches to improve higher education in their state.