Last night, I rolled out my free college tuition plan at the College Democrats of Texas State University because I think public education should be about opportunity for a better life, not being stuck in a cycle of life-long debt.
Watch my presentation at the College Democrats on Facebook
When I moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas in 1992, many things were a lot cheaper. I could get a apartment for less than $500/month and bus fare only cost 25¢.
College was also a lot less expensive then. When I started school, tuition and fees cost about $1000/year. Today it costs ten times that at UT! After getting a little bit of help from my family in the first two years of school, I worked my way through college. After taking a couple years off to earn extra money to go back and with the help of some Pell grants, I was able to graduate debt-free. My generation may be the last to ever do that if we don’t change how we invest in our people.
I am a passionate supporter of K-12 education because every child deserves a decent education and an educated citizenry makes our democracy and economy work. But a high school diploma is not enough anymore. A college degree or post-secondary training at a community college or trade school has become a requirement to get a decent paying job in the 21st century. Yet tuition costs are skyrocketing faster than inflation, meaning students and their families have to choose between potential life-long debt to get ahead or be stuck in low wage jobs.
This is why we have to stop this cycle of debt and restore post-high school education an accessible opportunity for all who have the ability and dedication to complete the degree. We must make free college tuition at our public universities, colleges, community colleges, and trade schools the standard from here on out.
We can cover this plan if we change how we spend the money. It would cost $65.6 billion to cover all the in-state tuition of every student at a 4-year public school. Our current federal higher education budget is $68 billion split between Pell grants and other direct funding. If we restructure current budget to provide direct funding to public schools for all students, we can cover all of the in-state tuition and required fees at 4 year schools within the current budget.
By rounding the tax rate on the top 1% of income earners from 39.6% to 40%, we would generate the rest of the funds we need to cover every community college student, the textbooks for all public school students, and room and board costs for students from low income families.
Making federal funding come in the form of direct grants to higher education institutions, rather than for individual students who apply, is critical to ensure all students are covered and to prevent states from cutting their investment in public colleges as federal dollars come in to cover existing tuition.
Creating a fair economy means making more opportunity for our people without crushing debt. Let’s take our commitment to K-12 and expand our educational investment for the 21st century.