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Bill in Congress Would Make College Tuition-Free

People are paying more than $1.3 trillion in student loan debt in the United States. (Michael Fleshman/Flickr)
People are paying more than $1.3 trillion in student loan debt in the United States. (Michael Fleshman/Flickr)
September 6, 2017

SEATTLE - The college year has started again, and for many students that means anxiety over debt is here again, too.

According to the Institute for College Access and Success, the class of 2015 in Washington state graduated with an average debt of $24,600. The College for All Act now in Congress aims to change that, making tuition for a four-year college free for students whose parents make less than $125,000 a year, and free for anyone attending a two-year community college.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., sponsor of the bill, said it is a practical and affordable plan.

"I say to everybody who says it costs too much money, 'It's just a matter of choices,' " she said. "Republicans want to put a lot of money into tax breaks for the wealthiest but, with a tiny, tiny financial transactions tax, we could pay for college for all."

A financial transactions tax is a small surcharge on trades of stocks and bonds. Under the College for All Act, the federal government would cover two-thirds of the cost and the states would cover the rest. The bill currently has 32 cosponsors, including Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., and seven cosponsors for the Senate version introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Student loan debt in the United States has surpassed $1.3 trillion. Karen Strickland, president of the American Federation of Teachers of Washington, said it has caused students to make tough financial decisions, some of which ultimately hurt the economy.

"They're just busy paying the debt. They're not buying homes, they're not able to replace a lousy car, they're not able to afford the quality child-care that they need," she said. "There's not a whole lot of talk about that aspect of the debt problem, but it really has this impact on the overall economy."

The bill also would cut the interest rate in half for new and existing federal student loans.

Text of the College for All Act is online at congress.gov.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA