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Congress Dems Introduce 'Debt-Free' College Bill

Sen. Brian Schatz is the lead sponsor in a major democratic legislative push to make college "debt-free" through federal-state partnerships.

student loans being cut with scissors

Congressional Democrats are looking to make a radical shift in how students pay for college under legislation introduced on March 6. The Debt-Free College Act, introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), provides states with incentives through matching grants to increase investment in public higher education and provide students with a pathway to debt-free college.

The federal-state partnership would match state investments if states agree to appropriate funds to help students pay for the full cost of college. The total cost of college has forced 44 million Americans to take out loans to pay for their education and the amount of college debt has increased 170 percent since 2006, according to a press release announcing the new legislation.

"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," said Schatz. "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."

The legislation is co-sponsored by 40 Democrats in the Senate and House, including presidential contenders Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY). 

The Debt-Free College Act is notably not co-sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who serves as the ranking member in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. In a Feb. 28 speech at the Center for American Progress, Murray included a federal-state partnership model to promote new investments in higher education as a cornerstone to her strategy to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

The bill is endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers, the Center for Law and Social Policy, Council for Opportunity in Education, Demos, Institute for Higher Education Policy, Jumpstart, NAACP, Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, Social Security Works and Young Invincibles.

The full text of the legislation can be found here.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe covering education policy and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

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