IOWA CITY, Iowa, Feb. 19 – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), appearing tonight at the University of Iowa, will call for a fundamental change in national priorities so that college tuition at public universities and colleges is cut in half.
His proposal calls for an $18 billion boost in federal aid for higher education to be matched by states. The $18 billion figure is a fraction of new Department of Defense spending authority sought by the White House. Republicans in Congress want even more for the Pentagon.
Sanders also proposed to significantly lower interest on student debt by ending the Department of Education's practice of reaping large profits from higher education loans.
“In a highly competitive global economy we need the best educated workforce possible. Yet, because of the high cost of higher education, many bright young people can no longer afford to go to college and millions of others are leaving school saddled with horrendous levels of debt. We need to significantly lower the cost of higher education and reduce the interest rates that many Americans are paying on their student loans," Sanders said.
The budget proposed by President Barack Obama includes $38 billion more for the Pentagon’s base budget. Republicans in Congress want even more in a military budget that is higher than the next nine countries combined. Sanders instead would put half the amount requested for extra military funding, about $18 billion, into higher education grants to states. With state matching funds, tuitions at public universities and colleges could be cut in half, according to Sanders, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee.
Sanders also called for a major overhaul of federal student loans. The Congressional Budget Office has projected that the Department of Education will reap $127 billion in profits over 10 years from rising interest charges for college students and their families.
“We must end the practice of the government making billions in profits from student loans taken out by low and moderate income families. That is extremely regressive public policy," Sanders said. “It also makes no sense that students and their parents are forced to pay interest rates for higher education loans that are much higher than they pay for car loans or housing mortgages.”
Sanders’ higher education proposals come at a time when the United States, once the world leader in the percentage of people with college diplomas, now ranks 12th internationally. Of those American students who did graduate in the class of 2012, seven in 10 were in debt. The national average was $28,400 per borrower, according to The Project on Student Debt. Statewide in Iowa, the average debt was $29,898. At the University of Iowa, the average debt for a student in the class of 2013 was $28,131.
“We need a revolution in the way higher education is funded,” Sanders said. “In the United States, all people who have the desire and the ability should be able to receive all the education they need regardless of their income. This must be done if we are going to rebuild the disappearing middle class and create an economy of good-paying jobs.”
To read the senator’s prepared remarks, click here.