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Sanders writes: "I don't often use this phrase but we are, in fact, offering a 'revolutionary' proposal - a proposal that will transform and improve our country in many ways."

Sen. Bernie Sanders. (photo: Getty)
Sen. Bernie Sanders. (photo: Getty)

This Is Why We Should Cancel All Student Debt

By Bernie Sanders, Medium

26 June 19


don’t often use this phrase but we are, in fact, offering a “revolutionary” proposal — a proposal that will transform and improve our country in many ways.

In a highly competitive global economy, when we need the best educated workforce in the world, this proposal will make it possible for every person in America to get all of the education they need regardless of their financial status. This means not only a college education but the right to enter a trade school or apprenticeship program to acquire the skills needed to become a carpenter, plumber, sheet metal worker or many of the other important jobs that keep our society going.

In other words, we will make a full and complete education a human right to which every American are is entitled. This means making public colleges, universities and HBCUs tuition free and debt free by tripling of the Work Study program, expanding Pell Grants and other financial incentives.

Further, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, it is simply not acceptable that our younger generation, through no fault of their own, will have a lower standard of living than their parents — more debt, lower wages and less likelihood of owning their own homes. That is why this proposal completely eliminates student debt in this country and ends the absurdity of sentencing an entire generation — the millennial generation — to a lifetime of debt for the “crime” of doing the right thing — getting a college education.

Ten years ago the U.S. government bailed out Wall Street after their greed, recklessness and illegal behavior drove us into the worst recession in modern history. Today, the major Wall Street banks are larger than ever, their profits are soaring and their CEOs revive huge compensation packages. Our proposal, which costs $2.2 trillion over ten years, will be fully paid for by a tax on Wall Street speculation — similar to what exists in dozens of other countries. The American people bailed out Wall Street, now it is Wall Street’s time to help the working families of this country. This Wall Street tax will have the added benefit of controlling Wall Street recklessness and reducing the likelihood of another major economic crash.

In 1944, as World War II was coming to an end, the U.S. government did the right thing and passed the GI Bill which made free higher education available to all those who served in the Armed Forces. That act not only improved the financial well-being of an entire generation, the Greatest Generation, but it also laid the groundwork for a great expansion of the American middle class.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the federal government and state governments invested heavily in higher education with the result that college tuition was virtually free for millions of young people.

Forty years ago, a federal Pell Grant paid for nearly 80 percent of tuition, fees, room and board at a four-year public college.

Well, sadly, things are different today. Today, it costs over $21,000 each and every year to attend some of those very same schools which 50 years ago were virtually tuition free. Today, Pell Grants cover only about 30 percent of college expenses.

And here are the results of federal and state higher education cutbacks.

Today, the average college senior graduates with about $30,000 in student debt and one out of six seniors will graduate with over $50,000 in debt. The situation is even worse for African American and Latino families. And, at a time when we are in desperate need for more doctors, dentists, and nurses many young people are leaving medical school, dental school or nursing school hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. And here’s a sad truth. Many students drop out of college because of the cost after accumulating significant debt, and don’t even have a degree to show for their efforts.

Let’s be clear. The millennial generation was told that the only way they would get the good jobs available is if they received a college education. That turned out to be dead wrong.

Since 2000, the cost of attending a public college has nearly doubled. Meanwhile, the bottom 60% of college graduates earn less money than those who graduated college did 19 years ago and wages for the average college graduate have stagnated.

Today, 34% of Americans 25 and older have a college degree, but only 26% of jobs in our country require a college education.

The result is that many millions of young people today are forced to work at low wage jobs, their standard of living is going down, while they are struggling to pay off their outrageously high level of student debt.

The bottom line is we should not be punishing people for getting a college education.

It’s time to hit the reset button.

Under the proposal that we are introducing today, all student debt would be cancelled within 6 months.

By taking this action, we will not only provide immediate financial relief to 45 million Americans who have $1.6 trillion in student debt, we will be improving the entire economy.

According to a study from the Levy Institute, cancelling all student debt would add an estimated $1 trillion to our economy over the next decade and it would create up to 1.5 million jobs a year.

Let me conclude by telling a tale of two crises. In 2008, we bailed out Wall Street to the tune of trillions of dollars after they themselves had caused the crisis.

But today we have ignored the economic distress of millions of Americans who through no fault of their own are now deeply in debt.

It’s time to pay attention to their needs. It is time to act.

It is time to cancel student debt.

It is time to make public colleges and universities tuition free and debt free.

It’s time to create an economy that works for all of us, not just the people on top.

Read a fact sheet on College For All here.

Read the legislative text here.

Read a fact sheet on the Inclusive Prosperity Act to raise revenue for the proposal here.

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