A new bill has been introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) that would effectively get rid of undergraduate tuition costs.
The bill, named the "College for All Act," would eliminate the undergraduate tuition at all four-year public universities and colleges, totaling around $70 billion. The government would be responsible for 67% of the annual costs, or $47 billion each year. Each state would need to cover the remaining 33%, or $23 billion.
There are a number of requirements each state must meed in order to qualify for the federal government grants under Sanders' plan. Universities in the state must maintain or increase its student expenditures and operation expenditures each year, and must promise that 75% of instruction will be taught by tenured or tenure-track professors within 5 years after beginning the program.
Once the federal grant money has been used to get rid of tuition costs, colleges would then be able to increase funding for students, hire additional faculty, and offer professional development opportunities for its students.
In order to fund the program through September 2015, the senate and congressional budget for the fiscal year 2015 would need about $10 billion in reductions to the Pell Grant program, which assists about 75% of black undergraduate college students and over half of the undergraduate Latino population. Money given to these students is not required to be paid back upon graduation.
House of Representatives Republicans recently suggested freezing the Pell Grant awards for the next 10 years at a maximum of $5,775. In addition, they would like to see the grants awarded solely to students who truly need them. Doing so would allow the House education committee to save $1 billion over the next 10 years.
"We live in a highly-competitive global economy and, if our economy is to be strong, we need the best-educated work force in the world. That will not happen if, every year, hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, and if millions more leave school deeply in debt," said Sanders.
Supporters of the bill include Alexandra Flores-Quilty, vice president of the United States Students Association (USSA). Flores-Quilty argues that such a bill is needed in order to eliminate tuition costs and student debt, which are increasing across the nation.
"Senator Sanders' proposal is exactly what the broken U.S. higher education system needs," Flores-Quilty says. "A free education means a free society. I want to thank Senator Sanders for being a champion to students and working families."
USSA statistics show that student debt in the higher education system was more than $1 trillion as of 2012, and is currently approaching $1.2 trillion. Between 1987 and 2012, the amount of money students were responsible for paying rose from 23% to 47%.
As of 2012, states were investing $5,896 for each full-time student. In 1987, that investment totaled $8,497.