Rep. Jayapal proposes bill that would make college tuition-free

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Rep. Pramila Jayapal

The college year has started again, and for many students that means anxiety over debt is here again, too.

According to the Institute for College Access and Success, the class of 2015 in Washington state graduated with an average debt of $24,600. 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.

The bill’s sponsor — Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who represents Edmonds in Washington state’s 7th Congressional District –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,'” she 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 9th District Congressman Washington Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., and seven cosponsors for the Senate version introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

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

“They’re just busy paying the debt. 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,” she said. “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.

Text of the College for All Act is online at congress.gov

— By Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service (WA)

36 COMMENTS

  1. Does anyone think College is FREE???? Someone is paying for it. House Taxes? Property TAX? Pop Tax? Food Tax? Additional tax on ALL businesses? I guarantee you someone will pay. A wise women once said “first they appreciate it, then they expect it, then they DEMAND it.” Nothing is free, sounds like the old quip “a chicken in every pot.”

  2. I am having trouble with this idea; sorry folks; I took out loans to go to school and paid them back in full like most in my age group. We took on 2nd and 3rd jobs to help to pay back money borrowed. Why do we think people should be given free rides because it is too difficult for them to pay something back? Who is going to pay for those who get the free tuition? And is the fair to everyone else. I am all for lending a hand (that is what a loan is)

    • Please explain the correlation between wanting to offer free tuition and her immigration status? There are several elected officials on state and national levels that have proposed or signed similar legislation that are not foreign born (Bernie Sanders, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Gov. Gina Raimondo).

      • The misguided officials that you referenced did not chose another country. Ms. Jayapal chose this country for her education, apparently never left, and now evidently wants to move us from capitalism to socialism.

    • Wow, Ron. Low blow. She is a citizen, same as you. We may not like her policies, but pointing out that she’s an immigrant as an argument against this bill is not civil discourse.

      • I agree about the low blow Ron. This is America and she is a citizen. Sarcasm and inappropriate comments? (choose not chose).

        Monitor – inappropriate?

  3. When student loans were deregulated in the 1980’s, and no longer based on financial need, as determined by filing a FAFSA with your college financial aid office, everyone began taking out student loans to go to school. With all that “extra money for college” out there, post-secondary schools got greedy and began their egregious tuition hikes. The situation with student loans now is in many ways similar to the sub-prime mortgage problem. Defaults are bringing the entire thing tumbling down. Do I think free tuition is the answer? No. Absolutely not. Professors should be appropriately paid, facilities need to be maintained. Going to college is a choice that people make, and they bear the burden for paying their own way. Taxation of everyone else to pay for this is not right. And remember that Washington state is in contempt right now for unlawfully under-funding our public schools, and not taking appropriate actions to correct the situation. If our department of education can’t manage what they currently are responsible for, how could we ever trust them to manage our colleges and universities?

      • While I certainly agree that ‘free’ tuition is not a sustainable answer, I do not think the complete story behind rising educational costs has been realized here, especially for state institutions.

        I worked over 15 years for WSU and two other two-year state colleges in a management/administrative role, and was responsible for approximately 25 different budgets in my last position. During this time, the only true increases in budget were granted if we constructed new square footage on the campus. Commonly, in the Community and Technical College system, the budget was tied to enrollment and enrollment itself correlated to the economic conditions of the moment. When the economy went south, students flocked to school, and cars covered the grass because the parking lots were already filled. In response, the message from the state was that these were hard times and it had no money to give colleges. So, budgets would suffer reductions despite the fact there were more students than ever to serve. During the economic good times, enrollment would decrease because people had jobs, and the message from the state was that we didn’t need the extra money because there were fewer students. Budgets were again cut.

        To “make up” for this inequity, the state would periodically grant colleges a percentage to increase tuition rates to offset somewhat the loss of staff that was otherwise unavoidable. Also, colleges began actively courting international students because their tuition rates were pegged so much higher than the rate for residents. So, it has been the yearly actions of legislators far more that the greed of public institutions that has driven these costs.

        There are other factors at play as well in the rising expense of higher education. Though I am a Washington native, I began my university education in California. This was a time when colleges were very heavily supported by tax dollars, so the cost of full-time attendance was a mere $75 per semester. A single book for a class now fetches far more than this amount. In the 70s, I rented a house in Seattle for $125/mo. and lived on a part-time job while attending the UW. A person cannot rent a cardboard box on a Seattle curbside for that amount today.

        The expenses associated with higher ed are far more complex than one might first believe, and it is clear that we will not be moving back to the conditions of the 1970s that made this education so easily affordable. Research has validated that a more educated population brings revenue to a state, so there is a return on this investment. Where the balance lies is a point we all need to consider for the sake of our children and the future of our country.

    • So if someone uses the Dart transit vans to get to Harbor Square Athletic Club because they can’t afford another mode of transportation – then they’re a communist/socialist and shouldn’t be transported? Even they qualify for the program based on income and need? I pay taxes that support these folks and I’m ok with it. It’s called being compassionate and American.

      Oh, if you utilize Medicare and God forbid have a serious illness or requirement for extensive surgery – I won’t feel comfortable funding (being “charged” for) your debt obligations….. just saying.

  4. As I’ve commented many times, it’s just more of the same. Sating a politician’s desire to spend (other people’s) money is difficult because when the well runs dry they find a new, modified, or bigger tax to get more. Wait, it’s just a “tiny, tiny” bit more – it’s like feeding an addiction.

  5. BooHoo ! Fully Funded Education … no such thing..and the so-called contempt ruling by the Supreme Court is judicial overreach. And free tuition? Free Free Free …Typical progressive ploy for votes!

    Unfortunately the sheep listen and vote for the arcane dream of Free! And sadly, sigh, I’m a sucker for free also…

    • Like free Social Security and Medicare? I more than paid for these as well. BooHoo. Typical lack of compassion, vision and understanding that the the world is changing. Progressives bad and what good? Please enlighten us..

  6. I like the way Rep. Jayapal thinks. Why accept something because it is the way we have always done it. It is time for social change in America, healthcare, education. The United States has fallen further and further behind in taking care of it’s people. There are better ways. And just because you had to go into debt to pay for your education doesn’t make it right, it doesn’t make you better or stronger. It can be crippling. I want better for the children of this country than saddleing them with insurmountable debt in order to get an education.

  7. I agree with the comments above. Nothing is free, politicians pass on costs to us via taxes and they do not have a concept of what that really costs us. What ever happened to working for a college degree?
    Earning something gives it real value – free does not.

  8. Those of you that are justifying your comments by bringing up issues with our state education funding shortfall are either being disingenuous or don’t understand Rep. Jaypal’s office. She is our rep to US Congress, not Olympia. It is not her role to develop solutions at the state level. And the comments about her immigration status are horrifying. You can’t come up with a legitimate argument so you attack her about her country of origin? What’s next, are you going to blame it on her gender and the color of her skin?

    • Her country of origin was not attacked. The relevance of her being an immigrant is that she chose this country; if she prefers socialism, a radical change, she should have chosen a different country. She’s acting like someone who moves near an airport and expects the airport to change.

      • So Ron, “if she prefers socialism, a radical change, she should have chosen a different country.”, that means anyone whose ideas do not agree with yours should not come to America? You know, the land of free speech…

        • Not at all what I said; you’re very obviously making a gross exaggeration. I simply believe that someone who prefers to live under socialism should not immigrate here and then try to change our system.

  9. Not a fan of this “free college” idea – simply because it won’t be free. It will be like the $35 tabs or the Sound Transit bill – “seems” like a good idea on paper but it won’t pencil out. My parents were clear with me – go to college, but you’ll need to find a way to contribute. As a result, I postponed college, joined the Navy, learned a few valuable skills, and the Navy paid the greater portion of my college bill. What they didn’t pay, I covered through part-time work (20 hours a week between the hours of 11pm – 6am) while carrying 15 – 18 credits every quarter. I graduated with no debt – but there was sacrifice.

    Earn it – and for those who need additional help, the rich already pay through scholarships. You have to earn those too. But to assume I should pay more is not a good strategy. I will invest in those who I think have talent, skills, and abilities. After all, I earn my money and so I will choose who I want to invest in.

    One of my mentors told me early on that “if what you are about to take on is worth anything to you, you’ll find a way to make it happen.” You want college bad enough, you’ll find a way to earn it.

  10. Mike, while you were in the Navy and later college I was working and paying my 22% federal taxes that helped support you Career and education. I am glad for your success! But much of the subsidy was paid for by others and you only paid a small portion of the actual costs. The real question no one had talked about is what is the education we want our young people to have to function in an ever more complicated world. Once we decide that then we need to figure out how we can create the pathways to accomplish the goals for education we may decide.

    • Darrol, point of clarification: you were not supporting Mikes’s career and education. You were paying Mike for his service-hard, dangerous service; service that the great majority of Americans are unwilling or unable to perform.

  11. No lectures please. I paid my taxes. Mike had several options to create a education. Yes he choose an option that was hard and dangerous and all that. I appreciate his service and all others like him. But the fact remains he choose that path and my tax dollars funded it. My tax dollars today also fund all sorts of things: Military, police, fire, roads, social services, city government and even support Port of Edmonds Commissioners. The budget for the port commission (5 commissioners total) is supported to the tune of $150,000 per year from my taxes. I have no problem with what Mike did or even how I funded my own education. But my tax dollars did fund his career and education. I did not say it was wrong only made the point of the source of funds.

  12. Thanks Jim. Darrol, I suppose your logic extends to all those who work for federal, state, and county organizations. Yes. The taxes I paid, you paid and others paid, did in fact pay for my service and contribute to my education. What they didn’t cover in education, I did – through work. The bottom line is – I had to earn it. There was a transactional relationship. My time and contribution (which fewer than 1% do presently) for low pay BUT 3 years of education benefits.

    I’m totally cool extending this offer to all those who want it and qualify, whether it be peace corps, AmeriCorps, military service, etc. SERVE two years that contributes to the betterment of this country, and if you then want to pursue education, we’ll subsidize it.

  13. Thanks for the thoughtful comments Mike, I have no issue with the path you chose and acknowledge the work, low pay and danger you experienced. The “transactional relationship” was a good one for you. With your skills I am sure you qualified with flying colors. Some of the other paths you cited also take a very qualified person to be selected. The Peace Corp as an example have this statement on their application web site. “Many people ask why the Peace Corps requires a four-year college degree for most of its positions. As Peace Corps serves at the invitation of host country governments, host nations have the right to identify their own needs and may choose to set a degree requirement. A college degree may even be a requirement to obtain a work visa in some countries.”

    Most positions require an degree first. The do help in the payment of college loans based on length of service an other criteria. But a degree is need to apply in the first place. Using the Peace Corp to help subsidize education is risky. Get a 4 year degree and have student loans and then hope you qualify and then after a lengthy service some subsidy to help pay off the loans. This path is filled with risk and if not accepted one’s income will be needed to pay off the loans.

    Our world is vastly different that is was in the 40’s to 70’s. My parents had an 8th grade education. Dad had a blue collar job and we could afford a 3 bedroom house on his job alone. My summer job was not enough to pay for the costs at the U of W. My folks helped with a part of my board and room. An with a small scholarship I made it through with the only a debt of gratitude for my folks help and the scholarship. My 12 yrs of public school may have provided enough knowledge and skills to get a good enough job to barely get by but the 4 year degree was needed to get the edge needed in the 60’s and later. Todays kids are not as lucky with just a 12yr education. Some form of addition education is needed just to survive.

    My thought on all of this is less on the funding of advanced education but rather the need to adequately function in today’s world. Any you better have a life partner with the same skills because a single income will not cut it. We need a better educated population to make things work. If we don’t our tax dollar will be spend on jails, drug clinics, and other forms of support. Lets put our thinking caps on to see if we can create pathways and motivations to get a better educated people.

    Mike, thanks for your service and your continue contribution to society. You are part of the solution and not part of the problem. The message you cite about you parents insisting you go to college and find a way to pay for it was great. It sounds familiar. I am glad we both listened and acted on what our parents suggested.

  14. Why don’t we (the government) sponsor a G.I. Bill sort of funding for people who volunteer for community service projects? Like working on restoration after natural disasters. Not everyone wants to lift a gun to help out. Goodness knows our country would benefit from the strong young hands working to make this country a better place. Why not reward them with scholarships?

  15. Best I can figure is some on this blog are equating source of funding to political or economic ideology. Tax money is socialism and ones own money is not. K-12 is all tax dollars, college used to be 80% tax dollars and is now around 30%. So K-12 is socialism? College was 80% socialism and now about 30% socialism?

    K-12 used to be enough to find a job, support a family and live a down scaled version of the American Dream. Education beyond K-12 is needed to achieve that down scaled version of the American Dream. So do we owe kids today a “free” “socialized” education that will give them a shot as the small AD? If yes then how do we do that? What paths can we create to allow them to “earn” it. The paths available to years ago no longer work. If we want to add to the capabilities of K-12 to achieve the results that how do we do that and lets get going. If we do not want to structure K-12 to accomplish those goes then how do we provide the added education needed?

  16. Ms Jayapal’s country of origin was brought up why?
    Her thoughts about giving families and students a break to enable them to afford a higher education seem very capitalistic to me. Better education leads to more productivity in the ecomony generating workers with higher paychecks to contribute to the tax base. Students graduating with crushing debt is a drag on the ecomony ( currently the student loan issue is seen in the same light as home loans were before the Great Recession and the debt is at $1.3 trillion according to USA Today.). When those loans go into default we all pay for it whether we like it or not. Relieving that burden, and funding education for folks of qualifying incomes is just sensible.
    Someone subsidized my education, and my taxes subsidize theirs. And my education allowed me the opportunity to pay more taxes too. Seems like a win win. And a very capitalistic one at that.

  17. I wonder how many times I have to post asking for people to stop trying to hyperbolize an economic issue?

    This has nothing to do with race or nation of origin. It was very unfortunate this topic even entered into the dialog. There is considerable validity to a discussion around why there are people that have successfully immigrated to our great country, state, county and city in attempt to flee over-reaching government and then attempting to employ the governing techniques they fled. But, that should be left to scientists.

    That being said, can we please discuss the financing of this initiative?

    If this taxation is so readily available and could pass a vote of the citizens;
    Where is the data showing this is the most appropriate use of these monies to achieve the intended solution?
    Where is the evidence the federal government is the appropriate governing body to wash our tax money and give it back to universities?
    Where is the evidence our state government can effective manage a multi-hundred-million dollar budge, wash the monies and give it back to the community colleges?

    Stop with the non-sense and present facts surrounding the use of our tax dollars. (let alone how anyone can justify the feasibility of keeping to borrow from other nations to fund these types of initiatives) If we’re going to continue to borrow, (which apparently we are) how about if we utilize the money fund education from pre-school forward vs. secondary education backwards?

  18. What the article doesn’t outline is whether this is first dollar in or last dollar in. For example, low-income students who qualify for full Pell generally have a FAFSA determination of Estimated Family Contribution of zero. That is, they are so poor they can’t afford to contribute. Total annual Pell is just under $6,000. Even at a public community college, that’s hard to stretch to cover 30 credits per year plus books and the other costs of attending (transportation, housing, food, etc.). So, most take less than 15 credits/semester, take longer and work a whole lot to retain. If it is last dollar in – these lowest income folks don’t benefit. Now, if it is first dollar in (which most plans are NOT), then they can use their grants to cover some of the other costs of attending, work less while studying and get done faster. Most of the last dollar in “free” college programs benefits the medium income folks in our neighborhoods who don’t qualify for federal or state grants based on household income but who don’t have the disposable income to underwrite the annual costs, even with the student working as much as possible. This is when folks turn to the loans, most of the un-subsidized loans are pure usuary. The private colleges are pricing out these middle income folks and the public 4-years are right behind them. So, I’m for a needs based approach to this whole problem — that lies with a better Pell grant that started off decades ago providing substantial support and now is totally inadequate; more state aid — my state MA is 49th in the country in individual state aid just above Arkansas; and a focused support of public higher education where the financial load that has been shifted onto the students shoulders due to state disinvestment is shifted back onto the larger population of taxpayers who benefit greatly from the graduates’ higher wage taxes, ability to buy a house and pay those property taxes, enter into fields that are demanding post-secondary training and credentials, and contribute more productively to our economy and community. Public higher education is an investment that pays off big for all of us — it’s worth more support, even if it is not “FREE.”

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