WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin joined Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and U.S. Representative Mark Pocan (D-WI) in the reintroduction of the Debt-Free College Act, legislation that will reverse the growing student debt crisis in the United States. The bill restores a path to affordable college by providing states incentives through matching grants to increase investments in public higher education and provide students with debt-free college.
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. The bicameral legislation, first introduced in 2018, was the first proposal to go beyond free tuition, and ensure that students leave college without the financial burden of student loan debt.
“Higher education should be a path to prosperity, not debt. But unfortunately, college costs and student loan debt are holding back an entire generation and creating a drag on economic growth for our country,” said Senator Baldwin. “Washington must do more to address this problem with real solutions. The Debt-Free College Act will provide relief to America’s students by creating a state-federal partnership to make higher education more affordable and help graduates get ahead.”
“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 – and that includes books, room and board, and supplies,” said Senator Schatz. “Our 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.”
“Every student in America deserves the opportunity to get a college education without being crushed for years by student debt,” said Congressman Pocan. “The Debt-Free College Act creates a critical federal-state partnership that would make debt-free college a reality for students within five years. Student debt isn’t just tuition—it’s books, housing, supplies and food, and this bill reflects the reality of those costs. If we truly believe in the value of our education system, then we should be making it easier for students to pursue higher education, not financially impossible. This bill is an integral first step to ensure that college is accessible to every person in this country.”
The bill is endorsed by the Center for Law and Social Policy, Institute for Higher Education Policy, Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, Social Security Works, Young Invincibles, The Education Trust, and Council for Opportunity in Education.
“Higher education is one of the best investments we can make as a society to empower young people to earn degrees and credentials that set them up to succeed in their careers, contribute to the economy, and lead lives with better health outcomes and higher levels of civic engagement. The Debt Free College Act would establish the kind of federal-state partnership needed to make college affordable for all students and make a much-needed down payment on long-term, equitable economic recovery and growth. Young Invincibles thanks Senator Schatz and the co-sponsors of this necessary legislation to break the cycle of increasing college cost and student indebtedness, and we look forward to supporting it through the 117th Congress,” said Dr. Kyle Southern, Young Invincibles Policy and Advocacy Director for Higher Education and Workforce.
Beyond tuition and fees, the total cost of attendance—room and board, books and supplies, and other expenses—has forced 45 million Americans to take on debt to cover their financial need. College debt has more than tripled since 2006 and now exceeds $1.7 trillion dollars, which is second only to mortgage debt and surpasses even credit card debt.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student loan debt is responsible for 35 percent of the decline in homeownership since 2007. The percentage of younger people who reported owning a business was cut in half between 2010 and 2013. Pew Research Center found that about 50 percent of student borrowers say their loans increase their risk of defaulting on other bills.
The bill is also co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). In the House, the bill is cosponsored by U.S. Representatives Brendan Boyle (D-PA), Judy Chu (D-CA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA), Raùl Grijalva (D-AZ), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Mark Takano (D-CA), Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), Peter Welch (D-VT) and Nikema Williams (D-GA).