JOHNSON, Vt., Feb. 17 – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), speaking today at Johnson State College, called for a “revolution” in the way higher education is funded in the United States.
He proposed tuition-free courses for freshmen and sophomores at all public colleges and universities. He also called for reforms in federal student 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 debt. This is absurd. This is absolutely counter-productive to our efforts to create a strong economy,” Sanders said.
Sanders noted that the U.S. is lagging behind countries where college is free. Once the world leader in the percentage of people with college diplomas, the United States 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. In Vermont, the average debt was $27,318. At Johnson State, the average debt for a student in the class of 2013 was $31,595.
“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, in this changing economy, to receive all the education they need regardless of their income. This must be done not only to rebuild the disappearing middle class but to make us competitive in the global economy.”
Sanders welcomed President Barack Obama’s proposal to make community college free, but the senator said we must go further. Sanders called for no tuition for the first two years at any public college or university.
He also suggested tying increased federal funding to greater state support for higher education. A new study by the Government Accountability Office found tuitions have gone up while state support has declined. An $11.5 billion federal investment matched dollar-for-dollar by states could reduce college costs by one-third, he said.
“We must fundamentally restructure our student loan program. It 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. We must also end the practice of the government making $127 billion over the next decade in profits from student loans,” Sanders said.