College tuition for four-year public colleges may become free for families who make less than $125,000 a year under the College for All Act.
Washington’s 7th congressional district Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced the bill to the House of Representatives on April 3. Along with eliminating the cost of public university tuition for many families, the bill will also make community college free for all.
According to federal reserve statistics, the country’s current student loan debt sits at $1.3 trillion. Student loan debt far exceeds the country’s credit card debt, which is currently $779 billion, Jayapal said.
A study by LendEDU evaluating the amount of student debt incurred per state found that Washington currently ranks 40th in terms of student loans. Fifty-six percent of graduates in Washington have student loan debts and the average debt per borrower is $24,997. The study also found 57 percent of Western students graduate with student loans, with the average amount per borrower at $21,520.
Sophomore Samrawit Temnewo struggles with her own student loans. Even though it is only her second year in college, she has already collected around $10,000 in loans.
“I’m trying to not take as [many] loans as I can, but it’s really hard,” Temnewo said. “You know, you need it for books.”
This bill will not make college completely free since living expenses and cost of books also factor into the cost of college education. However, removing the cost of tuition will make college more affordable to many people who feel college is out of their reach.
The bill would also help decrease the amount of debt incurred by students, political science professor, Dr. Sara Weir, said.
“It’s also a matter of equity,” Weir said. “To make the university look like the world we live in, is to begin to make it not as expensive.”
Senior Sofia Perry comes from a low-income, single-parent household and without the funds to afford college, she takes on student loans and pays for part of her tuition out of pocket.
“For me personally, affording college was always the number one issue,” Perry said. “They don’t give me enough loans anyway. I guess that shows how much the cost is, and how much people are struggling just to pay for school.”
Associate professor, Dr. Kate Destler from the political science department specializes in American education policy.
“Clearly, access to higher education is a real problem,” Destler said. “We know there are students who are capable of doing well in higher education that don’t attend simply because their families don’t have the resources to send them.”
However, Destler said creating a free education bill that works is not an easy task. She mentioned that one explanation for why tuition prices continue to rise is government subsidies on education provided as financial aid.
According to The College Board, in 2014-15 around two-thirds of college students used financial aid to help pay for college. These packages come in the form of grants and scholarships.
“We know there are students who are capable of doing well in higher education that don’t attend simply because their families don’t have the resources to send them.”
Dr. Kate Destler, political science associate professor
Although financial aid does not cover all students, Destler said there are universities who increase their prices because parts of tuition aren’t coming out of students’ pockets.
This bill will need to find a way to provide support to students in need while also making sure universities don’t increase their tuition as a result of the bill, Destler said.
She also hopes this bill will provide more resources to universities like Western that work to provide the best education possible with their funds.
Destler foresees this bill will receive push-back from private universities since the act would most likely decrease the demand for private colleges. This is because public colleges appear to be a better deal in terms of the cost of attendance.
Since the bill wouldn’t cover private college tuition, more students could potentially choose public institutions over private ones, she said.
According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, the national average cost of private college is $49,320 while the average for in-state cost of public college is $24,610.
Other push-backs could be from people who don’t think the country has the financial capacity to fund a bill that eliminates the cost of tuition, Destler said.
Destler also believes this bill will help decrease the number of hours many students need to work in order to afford school. This could allow students who can only afford to go to school part time to begin attending full time.
“I think it is very important for college to be substantially less expensive,” Destler said. “Whether college is free or whether college is half the price that it is.”
The College For All Act is currently under the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. It does not currently have a set voting date for the senate.
“The legislation is one piece, but now we need voices across the country,” Jayapal said as she closed her introduction of the bill. “We need rallies and organized events at every college campus across the country, and we need to make sure that we put that political pressure on.”
The cost of attending college has consistently been on the rise for more than the past four decades. The College Board compiled statistics studying the cost of education tracing back from the 1971-72 school year to the present 2016-17 year. They found that the average cost of college increased by 29 percent between 2006-07 and 2011-12, followed by a 9 percent increase between 2011-12 and 2016-17 for four-year public colleges. All figures in the study have been adjusted to inflation.
The average cost of a four-year university for in-state students across the country is currently $24,610 per year, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
Western’s cost of attendance sits at $22,828 for in-state students, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The average American family makes $53,889 annually, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.