NEWS: Sanders, Jayapal and Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Make College Tuition-Free and Debt-Free for Working Families

100+ Grassroots Groups and Unions Support Legislation Modeled on Biden Campaign Plan

WASHINGTON, April 21 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) Wednesday introduced the College for All Act to open up the dream of a college degree to millions of working-class children. The legislation would make the most substantial federal investment in higher education in the modern history of the United States and its transformative potential is on par with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Higher Education Act of 1965.

While the Biden Administration reviews how much student debt the president can cancel without Congress, the College for All Act will end the debt spiral in which too many working families find themselves. The bill is modeled directly after the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force proposal and the Plan for Education Beyond High School that President Biden campaigned on.

“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,” Sen. Sanders said. “If we are going to have the kind of standard of living that the American people deserve, we need to have the best educated workforce in the world. 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.” 

“While President Biden can and should immediately cancel student debt for millions of borrowers, Congress must ensure that working families never have to take out these crushing loans to receive a higher education in the first place,” Rep. Jayapal said. “The College for All Act will free students from a lifetime of debt, invest in working people, and transform higher education across America by making community college free for everyone and eliminating tuition and fees at public colleges and universities for families making up to $125,000.”

The legislation if passed would guarantee tuition-free community college for all students, and allow students from families earning under $125,000 a year to attend public colleges and universities tuition-free and debt-free. It would also guarantee students from families earning under $125,000 a year can attend tuition-free and debt-free public and private, non-profit Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions, and other Minority-Serving Institutions. The bill also makes an annual $10 billion federal investment to cover student support programs at these under-funded institutions.

The College for All Act doubles the maximum Pell Grant to $12,990, allows students to use the money to cover living and non-tuition expenses, like books and housing, and expands grant eligibility to Dreamers. 

The legislation also 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 a higher education.

The federal government’s share of the cost of eliminating tuition and fees at public institutions is set at 75% with states paying the remainder. But the legislation also includes an automatic stabilizer to increase that share to 90% in the case of an economic downturn.

The College for All Act is paid for by the Tax on Wall Street Speculation Act, also being reintroduced today by Sen. Sanders, that puts a tax of 0.5% on stock trades, a 0.1% fee on bonds, and a 0.005% fee on derivatives. The tax would raise up to $2.4 trillion over the next decade. Rep. Barbara Lee will be reintroducing the companion for the tax legislation in the House of Representatives.

The bill is cosponsored in the Senate by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and endorsed by more than 100 organizations. 

Read the bill summary here.
Read the legislative text here.
Read organizational statements of support here.
Read the names of more than 700 academics who support the bill here.
Read the Summary of the Tax on Wall Street Speculation Act here.