While presidential candidates typically hit the campaign road immediately after announcing their bid, it was work as usual for one Democratic presidential contender. On Tuesday, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a bill pushing free college education, further highlighting himself as the most progressive of all 2016 candidates.
Dubbed the College For All Act, USA Today reports that the the legislation would eliminate the staggering $70 billion in annual tuition costs for all four-year public colleges and universities in the U.S. The federal government would be required to give states $47 billion per year, covering 67 percent of expenses. The remaining 33 percent of costs would be shouldered by the states' governments.
"It is a national disgrace that hundreds of thousands of young Americans today do not go to college, not because they are unqualified, but because they cannot afford it," Sanders said in a statement on Tuesday announcing the bill. "This is absolutely counter-productive to our efforts to create a strong competitive economy and a vibrant middle class. This disgrace has got to end."
The U.S. was once the nation with the highest number of college graduates, Sanders pointed out, but has since fallen to 12th place on the list. The exorbitant cost of college hinders its accessibility to the average American, making higher education a privilege — as opposed to a right — available to only those who can afford it.
Drowning in student loan debt
The statistics are troubling: since 2008, student loan debt has increased by an absurd 84 percent to a record-breaking $1.2 trillion. 40 million Americans today have begun their post-college lives swamped in debt.
But Sanders plans to change all that. The College For All Act would enable Americans to study in any public institution they are admitted to without worrying about the costs, as well as allow those already burdened with student debt to refinance their loans.
In a statement on Sunday ahead of his announcement, Sanders — who identifies as a democratic socialist but is running for 2016 as a Democrat — compared the U.S.'s education system to that of Europe's.
"Countries like Germany, Denmark, Sweden and many more are providing free or inexpensive higher education for their young people," Sanders said. "They understand how important it is to be investing in their youth. We should be doing the same."
Where will the money come from?
To pay for some $750 billion to educate Americans over 10 years, the legislation would impose a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street, charging speculation fees on stock trades, bonds and derivatives.
Though it's unclear what the bill's chances are in Congress, millenials, for the most part, are paying attention, as their low job prospects and significant student loan debts make this perhaps the most pressing issue of their time.
If nothing else, the bill could serve to put pressure on the only other Democratic presidential candidate and current 2016 frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, to focus on student loan debt, too.
Regardless of the outcome, it's heartening that politicians are focussing on an issue that troubles millions of young Americans. Similarly, in January, President Obama proposed the idea of free community college for American students — though his approach is considerably more cautious than Bernie's.