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College Tuition Free Under Bill in Congress

Maryland graduates owe an average of more than $27,000 in student loans. (Amber Collier)
Maryland graduates owe an average of more than $27,000 in student loans. (Amber Collier)
September 7, 2017

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The college year has started again, and for many students, that can bring with it anxiety over debt.
The Institute for College Access and Success found the class of 2015 in Maryland graduated with an average debt of $27,700.

The College for All Act now in Congress aims to change that, making tuition for a four-year college free for students whose parents make less than $125,000 a year, and free for anyone attending a two-year community college.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who sponsored the bill, said it is a practical and affordable plan.

"I say to everybody who says it costs too much money, 'It's just a matter of choices,’” Jayapal said. "Republicans want to put a lot of money into tax breaks for the wealthiest, but with a tiny, tiny financial transactions tax, we could pay for college for all."

A financial transactions tax is a small surcharge on trades of stocks and bonds.

Under the College for All Act, the federal government would cover two-thirds of the cost and the states would cover the rest. The bill currently has 32 cosponsors - including Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland - and seven cosponsors for the Senate version, introduced by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Student loan debt in the U.S. has surpassed $1.3 trillion. Karen Strickland, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said it's forced students to make tough financial decisions - some of which ultimately hurt the economy.

"They're just busy paying the debt,” Strickland said. "They're not buying homes, they're not able to replace a lousy car, they're not able to afford the quality child care that they need. There's not a whole lot of talk about that aspect of the debt problem, but it really has this impact on the overall economy."

The bill also would cut the interest rate in half for new and existing federal student loans.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MD