In Norway, students go to college tuition-free. In Denmark, students are even paid to go to higher education. In the US, college students currently face more than $1.2 trillion of education debt. If the United States wants to boost its middle class and rebuild its economy, this is something that needs to change.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) understands this dilemma. Sanders met with supporters at a press conference on Capitol Hill today and introduced two bills to address it: his College for All Act and a Robin Hood Tax.
"It is a national disgrace that hundreds of thousands of young Americans today do not get to go to college, not because they are unqualified, but because they cannot afford it," said Sanders. "This is absolutely counterproductive to our efforts to create a strong, competitive, economy and a vibrant middle class. This disgrace has got to end."
According to Sanders, "a generation ago," our public colleges and universities were "pathways for all students, no matter their background, to enter the middle class." Thirty years ago, pursuing a higher education could earn a ticket to a middle-class future. Today, going to college can earn a ticket to a future burdened by debt.
At the press conference, Octavia Savage, a graduate of Bloomfield College, explained the dilemmas that American students of higher education face. "My most important concern in school was how to pay for my education," said Savage. "Even though I worked three jobs throughout college, I graduated $26,000 in debt. For many, that's even considered lucky."
Sanders' College for All Act aims to provide free tuition at every public college and university in the United States. It also expands the federal work-study program and allows every American to refinance their student debt loans. The bill establishes a matching grant program that provides $2 in federal funding for every dollar states spend on making public colleges and universities tuition-free. This takes President Obama's plan to provide free community college to the next, more necessary, level.
The College for All Act would be solely funded by the Robin Hood Tax. The Robin Hood Tax introduced today parallels a bill (H.R. 1464) introduced by Rep. Keith Ellison. It would impose a Wall Street speculation fee on investment houses, hedge funds, and other speculators of 0.5 percent on stock trades, a 0.1 percent fee on bonds, and a 0.005 percent fee on derivatives. According to the College for All Act summary, this tax could raise "hundreds of billions a year" to make tuition free at public colleges and universities in this country. It would "also be used to create millions of jobs and rebuild the middle class of this country."
More than 172 national organizations support the Robin Hood Tax. This tiny sales tax on Wall Street speculation - a fraction of the sales tax most states and localities levy on many consumer goods - is rated as "highly progressive" by the International Monetary Fund, meaning that it is only paid "by the richest institutions and individuals in society."
We know the middle class has stagnated while Wall Street has boomed. It is time that the institutions bailed out after 2008 be asked to help restore opportunity to the same American people they left behind.
"At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, at a time when trillions of dollars in wealth have left the pockets of the middle class and have gone to the top one-tenth of one percent, at a time when the wealthiest people in this country have made huge amounts of money from risky derivative transactions and the soaring value of the stock market," said Sanders, "it's time for a fundamental change in how we approach the financing of higher education, and the legislation I will introduce today will do just that."