In a Monday evening appearance at American University in Washington, D.C., Sen. Bernie Sanders called for making 4-year public colleges tuition-free, allowing students to refinance loans, eliminating federal profits on loans, expanding work-study programs and providing incentives for colleges and universities to keep costs down.
The senator also called for expanding Pell Grants to help more students afford college through a program targeted for steep cuts by Republican budget makers in Congress. Sanders also said student loan programs must be overhauled to reduce crushing debt loads which now exceed American’s credit card debt.
“We have a crisis in this country. Too many of our young people cannot afford a college education and those who do go to college are faced with crushing debt,” Sanders said in remarks prepared for the forum at American University. “Higher education must be available to all Americans who have the desire and ability. This is enormously important if we are to rebuild our middle class, and if we are going to be competitive in the global economy.”
He wants a return to the days when all young Americans willing to work hard and study hard could pursue a college degree. In 1965, he said, the average tuition at a four-year public university was $243. Over the last decade, however, tuition at 4-year public colleges and universities rose by 50 percent. State governments have slashed support for higher education and the burden has shifted to students and their parents.
“We once led the world in the percentage of our people with a college degree, now we are in 12th place.” Sanders said. “We are competing with other nations, including Austria, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, where college is free.”
Budget resolutions awaiting final action by the Republican-controlled Congress would make college even less affordable, said Sanders, who fought the proposals as the Senate Budget Committee’s ranking member. Under the Republican plans, student loan debts would rise by more than 15 percent with extra interest costs for low-income students. Nearly $90 billion in Pell Grants would be eliminated over 10 years, making college cost more for 8 million students.
“This is an attack on student aid, and we should continue to fight it. We must expand the Pell Grant program and we must make college education free at public colleges and universities all over this nation. This must be done if we are going to rebuild the disappearing middle class and create an economy of good paying jobs.”