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How tuition-free college could help the student debt crisis

How tuition-free college could help the student debt crisis

The Hill

Shirin Ali & Adam Barnes
May 20, 2022

Story at a glance

  • President Biden couldn’t garner enough support to include two years of free community college in his Build Back Better Agenda.

  • Some states, like New Mexico and New York, have implemented programs that allow residents to apply for tuition-free college.

  • About 75 percent of students took out loans to attend two or four-year colleges and they account for about half of the $1.6 trillion of outstanding student loan debt.

The $1.6 trillion student debt crisis has led President Biden to publicly consider forgiving at least $10,000 per federal borrower, yet critics of widespread student loan forgiveness argue cancelling loans for current debt holders does little to solve problems for future borrowers.
But what if higher education were free?
Surveys show there is an appetite for free tuition at state colleges and universities, especially when it targets qualified candidates. Politicians like Bernie Sanders and even President Biden have floated the idea of free college, invigorating the national debate over how to reign in the growing student debt crisis?
However, a plan for tuition-free college hasn’t been able to get through Congress, as First Lady Jill Biden confirmed in February when the president’s proposal to make two years of community college free for eligible students did not garner enough Democratic votes to pass through the Senate.
Some states have taken the matter into their own hands, offering options for a tuition-free college degree. New Mexico recently passed legislation that will provide tuition-free college to up to 35,000 New Mexicans that attend a New Mexican public or Tribal college or university. New York has also launched a scholarship program that allows eligible residents to attend certain state schools tuition free.
The impact of tuition-free college can be significant, as the cost of college has more than doubled in the past two decades and is growing steadily by around 7 percent each year, all while wages are stagnating by comparison for young adults.
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