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Jayapal, Sanders Introduce Legislation to Address Student Debt Crisis

WASHINGTON – U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) led lawmakers in introducing bicameral legislation to eliminate tuition and fees for most families at four-year colleges while making community college free. The College for All Act would address the root cause of the student debt crisis at a time when more than 45 million borrowers hold $1.75 trillion in total federal student loan debt.

“As millions of borrowers wait in limbo to see if the Supreme Court will allow President Biden’s student debt cancellation plan to lift millions out of debt, Congress must work to ensure that working families never have to take out these crushing loans in the first place,” said Jayapal. “I’m proud to lead this legislation with Senator Sanders that would free students from a lifetime of debt and transform our country’s higher education system by ensuring that everyone can afford to pursue a college degree.”

“Today, this country tells young people to get the best education they can, and then saddles them for decades with crushing student loan debt. To my mind, that does not make any sense whatsoever,” said Sanders. “In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, a higher education should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few. It is absolutely unacceptable that hundreds of thousands of bright young Americans do not get a higher education each year, not because they are unqualified, but because their family does not have enough money. In the 21st century, a free public education system that goes from kindergarten through high school is no longer good enough. The time is long overdue to make public colleges and universities tuition-free and debt-free for working families. Education is one of the keys to a successful democracy and we must make it easier, not harder, for young people to obtain the degrees they have worked so hard for.”

In the last 30 years, the cost of tuition at public four-year colleges increased 258 percent and at private institutions, it has increased 196 percent. This exponential growth in cost has meant that more than half of students graduate with debt, an average of $28,950 owed per borrower.

The College for All Act will ensure that America never returns to a debt crisis like the one happening right now, where before the COVID-19 pandemic when 24 million borrowers were put in a state of forbearance, more than 1.4 million people were more than 30 days late on their payments.

Aligned with the Plan for Education Beyond High School that President Biden championed, the legislation guarantees tuition-free community college for all students and ensures that students from single households earning under $125,000 a year and married households earning under $250,000 a year are able to attend public colleges and universities tuition-free and debt-free. It would also guarantee that students in families who earn less those same amounts can attend non-profit Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) tuition-free and debt-free. Additionally, the bill makes an annual $10 billion federal investment to cover student support programs in under-funded institutions.

The College for All Act also doubles the maximum Pell Grant to $14,790, makes funding for the program mandatory, and expands grant eligibility to Dreamers, and recipients of Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) or Temporary Protective Status (TPS). Additionally, the legislation triples federal TRIO and doubles GEAR UP funding to serve millions of additional low-income students, students with disabilities, and first-generation college students in their pursuit of higher education.

The federal government’s share of the cost of eliminating tuition and fees at public institutions is set at 80 percent with states and territories paying the remainder. However, the legislation includes an automatic stabilizer to increase that share in the case of high unemployment. States and territories would be required under a Maintenance of Effort to continue their investments in keeping college costs low. The College for All Act is paid for by a separate bill enacting a Wall Street speculation tax of 0.5 percent on stock trades, a 0.1 percent fee on bonds, and a 0.005 percent fee on derivatives. The tax would raise up to $2.4 trillion over the next decade. 

“For generations, we’ve told students that college is a real steppingstone to success, yet, for far too many, it’s not an affordable, accessible option. The College for All Act will address this problem, making college free for most students, incentivizing states to make their own investments in public higher education, supporting faculty and adding resources to support students. I thank Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Pramila Jayapal and all the co-sponsors for introducing the College for All Act, and I look forward to working with Congress and the Biden administration to make truly real the promise of higher education for all who want it, by curbing the prohibitive cost and eliminating the student debt burden for past, present and future students,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers.

“For decades, public investment in higher education has been slashed, offloading the skyrocketing costs onto students and their families. No matter what we look like, where we live, or what’s in our bank accounts, all should be able to pursue their dreams at an affordable college or university. The College for All Act will make this dream a reality, by making higher education tuition fee-free for working families, creating federal-state partnerships to reinvigorate investment in public higher education, and addressing the overreliance and exploitation of part-time faculty,” said Becky Pringle, President of the National Education Association. “I applaud Sen. Sanders and Rep. Jayapal for reintroducing this critical legislation that will allow everyone to learn and grow without a lifelong burden of student debt.”

“Education is a public good, but the only way working people can afford skyrocketing tuition is by going into a mountain of debt and mortgaging their future,” said Braxton Brewington, Press Secretary for the Debt Collective. “That’s why this bill enacting free college is so crucial for millions of families across the country. Now more than ever, we need members of Congress—particularly the representatives who acknowledge that canceling student debt won’t solve the root problem of higher education costs—to enact this legislation. Free education shouldn’t end at high school, especially when public service work like teaching or being a social worker requires a college degree.”

“Since President Biden announced his student loan relief program last August, there has been a non-stop chorus of ‘what about the cost of college’ sung loudly by critics.  I do hope all of those critics loudly and proudly demand this strong bill for free public college along with additional programs gets passed into law immediately.  This bill will solve the debt crisis for undergraduate education while ensuring a path for all students is viable: trades, community college, and four year programs.  Many thanks for the leadership of Senator Sanders and Representative Jayapal for their steadfast commitment to make education a right not a debt sentence,” said Melissa Byrne, Executive Director of We, the 45 Million.

“The College for All Act would finally guarantee that the vast majority of students in this country who want an undergraduate degree could afford to get one, just like the Higher Education Act of 1965 intended. By creating a critical state-federal partnership to cover tuition for students at public colleges, and expanding grant aid to allow students and families to meet their basic needs and non-tuition expenses, it is fundamentally a bill about student success,” said Bryce McKibben, Senior Director of Policy & Advocacy at The Hope Center at Temple University.

The legislation is cosponsored by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Andy Kim (NJ-03), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Becca Balint (VT-AL), Bennie Thompson (MS-02), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Cori Bush (MO-01), Delia C. Ramirez (IL-03), Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10), Dwight Evans  (PA-03), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-00), Frederica S. Wilson (FL-24), Grace F. Napolitano (CA-31), Grace Meng (NY-06), Greg Casar (TX-35), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (GA-04), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Jerrold Nadler (NY-12), Jill Tokuda (HI-02), Jimmy Gomez (CA-34), Judy Chu (CA-28), Madeleine Dean (PA-04), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Mark Takano (CA-39), Maxwell Alejandro Frost (FL-10), Melanie Stansbury (NM-01), Nanette Barragán (CA-44), Nikema Williams (GA-05), Nydia M. Velázquez  (NY-07), Rashida Tlaib (MI-12), Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García  (IL-04), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), and Ted Lieu (CA-36).

It is also endorsed by the Alliance for a Just Society & Just Strategy, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, American Federation of Teachers, APIA Scholars, Blue America, Blue Future, ChangeTN,, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Texas, Debt Collective, Equity in Education Coalition, MoveOn, National Consumer Law Center, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Education Association, New Hour for Women & Children LI, New York Progressive Action Network, NJ Communities United, Ohio Student Association, Our Revolution, Our Revolution Ohio, People’s Action, PFLAG National, Rise, Social Security Works, Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), Spean Rajana, Student Borrower Protection Center, Suffolk Progressives, Sunrise Movement, Swipe Out Hunger, The Hope Center at Temple University, We, the 45 Million, Women’s March, and Working Families Party.