On Wednesday, March 6, twin bills – identical in title and text – were introduced in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate aiming to provide the opportunity for students to attend in-state public colleges and universities without debt. The Debt-Free College Act was introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) as S. 672 in the Senate and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) as H.R. 1571 in the House.
In a joint press release, Sen. Schatz states:
The full cost of college – including books, room and board, and supplies -- is more than twice as much as tuition. If we are going to be serious about solving the student loan debt crisis we need to focus on the real cost to students and their families. My bill brings states back to the table and leverages federal dollars to reinvest in public education, and help people cover the full cost of college.
Rep. Pocan states:
Higher education is one of the most certain paths to economic security and opportunity for Americans. However, while college-degree holders earn significantly more than workers with only high school degrees, the cost of higher education – including tuition, living expenses, books, housing, meals, and more – is now out of reach for many students and their families. The Debt-Free College Act creates a critical federal-state partnership that would make debt-free college a reality for students within five years. With the federal government, states, colleges and universities, and students and their families all contributing, we can ensure that students graduate debt free and are not at a competitive disadvantage as a result of being burdened with student loan debt.
The bills aim to provide “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.” The bills also seek to make DREAMer students eligible for Federal Pell Grants and to repeal the suspension of eligibility under the Higher Education Act of 1965 for drug related offenses.
Many, including Department of Education (ED) secretary Betsy DeVos, that student loan debt is heading toward crisis level. Student debt was also front-and-center during a House Financial Services Committee hearing held on Thursday. Seth Frotman, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s former student loan ombudsman who resigned with a bang and launched an organization called the Student Borrower Protection Center, was one of the key witnesses at the hearing. Frotman’s testimony included descriptions of what the Bureau has done to protect student borrowers under Former Director Richard Cordray’s leadership and what Frotman viewed as a reversal of these protections under Former Acting Director Mick Mulvaney. Currently, the outstanding student loan debt balance sits at a staggering $1.5 trillion.