Photo by Priya Patel.
The student loan debt crisis made headlines on March 22 after Senator Brian Schatz, along with other legislators in Washington, introduced the Debt-Free College Act, an act that will reportedly reverse the debt crisis in America.
The bill, endorsed by more than 32 congressmen and groups like the National Education Association, would provide states with incentives to invest in public universities through matching grants so that students can graduate debt-free. Schatz (D-Hawaii) said in a quote that his bill “brings states back to the table and leverages federal dollars to reinvest in public education and help the people who need it most.”
Student loan debt is a trillion dollar crisis in the United States. According to a Federal Reserve Bank quarterly report, student loan debt reached an all-time high in 2017, climbing to $1.48 trillion spread across 44.2 million borrowers. The average borrower owes $37,172 on their student loans, with that number trickling into the six figures for those with postgraduate and doctorate degrees. As a result, student loan delinquency rates have risen sharply over recent years, peaking at 11.2 percent.
The rising burden of student loan debt in America has fueled debates about the ethics of public higher education costs, which recent reports say are climbing higher than the rate of inflation. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), a staunch advocate for “tuition-free and debt-free” public education, was once quoted saying, “How does it happen that we can get a home mortgage or purchase a car with interest rates half of that being paid for student loans?”
Others have voiced similar objections, arguing that crippling loan interest rates have led to the decline in home and business ownership among young Americans.
Supporters of Senator Schatz’s bill include Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI-2) and Jamie Raskie (D-MD-8), and Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), among many more. While the bill has garnered widespread Democratic support from both houses, its passing into law will require a bipartisan effort with Republican lawmakers, which may prove difficult given their push for a bill that would slash funding for student-loan forgiveness programs just last December.
If signed into law, the Debt-Free College Act would establish a state-federal partnership that provides a dollar-for-dollar federal match to state higher education appropriations in exchange for a commitment to help students pay for the full cost of attendance without having to take on debt.
A press release quoting Tamara Draut, Vice President of Policy and Research at Demos, said, “This proposal is truly a comprehensive approach that ensures all students — especially students of color — in our country can get a degree without putting their financial futures at risk. If signed into law, millions of students would have access to a college education who otherwise were left on the sideline because it was out of their price range.”