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Bernie Sanders: Guardian of Your Wallet

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Every year, young adults resolve to part with anywhere between $25-45,000 on college expenses. In a country where the majority of middle-class people(s) make anywhere between $30-70k, it’s really no wonder that folks are in such crippling debt. To make matters worse, people in such debt are confirmed to have trouble with buying a home, because of said debt. With that in mind, many people lost their shit when Bernie Sanders proposed a bill to make college tuition-free. With his massively popular “Feel the Bern” slogan, it’s no big secret that Bernie has won the favor of teens and young adults across the country.

The reason that this pitch has so powerful an appeal is that, today, having a bachelor’s degree is becoming more and more of a necessity if you want to do more than scrape by. Even still, prices for college simply continue to rise (about 8%, annually). Student loans have grown to a total of $1.3 trillion. With that in mind, I’ve found myself rightly invested in Sanders’s success, these past few years; when I heard that Katarina Lisaius, Senator Sanders’ Outreach Staff, was coming to Southern Vermont College, I knew I had to meet her.

And who could blame me? The fact that Senator Sanders had adamantly stuck by his promise, since the beginning of his campaign, shows a measure of confidence in this bill that should not be underestimated. Because the bill is a national legislation, it would not be able to pass, even just in Vermont, without being passed by every other state. This must be a joint effort for it to succeed. According to Lisaius:

 

“Senator Sanders has worked to increase college affordability consistently throughout his time in Congress.  He has long recognized that for many Americans a high school diploma, alone, no longer provides a clear path to a good-paying job with good benefits.  He believes students should not graduate with crippling amounts of student debt because they sought to obtain a higher education.

That is why, in May of 2015, he introduced the College for All Act which would make public colleges and universities tuition and fee-free.  This bill would also dramatically lower student loan interest rates and allow those with existing student loan debt to refinance their loans to these lower rates.  At a time when 7 out of 10 students graduate from four-year colleges with more than $30,000 in student loan debt, this is a common sense approach to ensure every American willing to work hard enough can get a college education without accruing crushing student loan debt.

Senator Sanders has addressed these crucial issues while traveling to nearly every corner of the United States during his presidential campaign.  Earlier this year, he stood with Governor Cuomo to endorse a plan that would make college in New York State tuition free for those making up to $125,000 a year. The fight for tuition- and –fee free public colleges and relief from crushing student loan debt will continue this and every year until it is a reality.”

It’s hardly an impossible task either, as Germany has already limited tuition. Finland, Norway, Sweden, and several other countries are also offering free college to all their citizens. Although the size difference is definitely something to account for, it is at least clear that this idea has potential for success.

Recently, Senator Sanders’s College For All Act has resurfaced with new steam. In comparison to its previous independence, with no sponsors to get along, this new version of the bill is being headed by five Senate co-sponsors for the bill (Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy, and Kirsten Gillibrand) and fourteen in the House of Representatives. There’s no doubt that the bill is gaining incredible traction.

 

Support Received and Opposition Raised

The College For All Act seems to be well received amongst students and their families for many reasons.Just in its initial introduction back in 2015, it had garnered the support roughly 3/4ths of the young adult population, its successor seems to have been tweaked to address its former shortcomings. According to Lisaius:

 

“The College for All Act has created excitement for students and families across the country. They recognize that we need bold solutions to address both the college affordability and student loan debt crises.  Its support has been so wide ranging that a compromise between Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton — to make public colleges and universities tuition and fee free for all those making $125,000 a year or less and to allow students to refinance their loans to lower rates — became part of the 2016 Democratic Party platform. When Senator Sanders speaks across the country, college affordability regularly receives the loudest applause of all the issues he talks about.

Those who have opposed this legislation have incorrectly stated that federal investments in students increase the cost of college, a theory that has not been proven.  Others insist the United States should not make such a bold investment into the next generation of students.  Senator Sanders believes that the richest nation on Earth has more than enough resources to make this a reality.  On top of that, his bill is paid for by imposing a tax on Wall Street speculation.”

 

I personally get the impression that a lot of the people who are currently opposing the bill do so more out of pettiness or cynicism than any actual concrete evidence against it.

 

Feasibility, and the Long-Term

Lisaius believes that “we must change the way higher education operates. Currently, those who can afford it, can go. Those who cannot afford it, do not go — or take on huge debt. We are creating generational poverty, and contributing to the shrinking of the American middle class. Until we change the cost of education, these problems will persist. We are making progress and seeing more and more proposals around the country for tuition free public higher education. It is definitely feasible once the political will is there.”

I, for one, agree. It’s also incredibly necessary. We live in a society of “haves” and “have nots.” In a country where everyone should be considered equal, theoretically, why is it that one’s entitlement to higher education falls not under their own academic potential but the amount of coin in their wallet?

 

Progress Made, as of Now

The College For All Act has made a lot of progress over the course of last year’s election. Lisaius stated that “the issues of college affordability and student debt came up repeatedly.” As she mentioned, Sanders “worked with Sec. Clinton and they came to a compromise on college affordability.”

In January, Senator Sanders joined Governor Cuomo of New York, to announce his proposal to make New York’s public colleges and university tuition and fee free for those making $125,000 or less. Other states, cities, and schools are working toward decreasing tuition costs for all students or low-income students, or providing more aid to cover the other costs of college besides tuition and fees. “By simply understanding how big this problem is, schools are beginning to make changes,” Lisaius reported.

 

Senator Sanders has broken his plan into 6 steps:

1. Make tuition free at public colleges and universities. As a side note, the public part is important because those are all universities that can fall under his domain. Private ones are a bit trickier.

2. Stop the Federal Government from making a profit on student loans. It is estimated that, over the next decade, the federal government will make a profit of over $110 billion. Sanders intends to instead use this money to significantly lower student loan interest rates. Thinking about this now, I get the feeling that this will help immensely for the people still in debt as it’ll mitigate its growth, at the very least.

3. Substantially cut student loan interest rates. Getting more specific on the above-mentioned statement, interest rates of undergraduate loans would drop from 4.29% to 2.37%.

4. Allow Americans to refinance student loans at today’s low interest rates.

5. Allow students to use need-based financial aid and work study programs to make college debt free. This is a huge step toward making college available for everyone. If public colleges and universities are required to meet 100% of the financial needs for even the lowest-income students, it, at the very least makes public college a resource, accessible for everyone. Bernie intends to more than triple the federal work study program to build valuable career experience that will help after graduation.

6. Impose a tax on wall street speculators. This plan is estimated to cost about $75 billion a year. Thus, it needs steady income to do so. Bernie intends for this to work by imposing a tax of a fraction of a percent on Wall Street speculators. This Financial Transactions tax, or Robin Hood Tax, would enforce a tax on speculation, or financial transactions such as bonds, stocks, etc. Senator Sanders seems confident that the money gained from this tax (a mere .5% for stocks and .1% for bonds) would be sufficient for maintaining the income needed to head a tuition-free higher education. Per Bernie Sanders, this tax would cut back on computer-generated, high speed trading, which is often accused of destabilizing the markets.

 

The Bill’s Influence on Private Schools

Lisaius confirmed that private schools would not be directly affected by the bill for free tuition, as they do not necessarily fall under the proposed bill’s ability to change. However, that isn’t to say that they will be entirely untouched by the influence of the bill.  Lisaius pointed out:

 

“Having free tuition at state colleges and universities will change higher education. But, private schools in Vermont will still be eligible for traditional federal aid programs, like Pell Grants, which Senator Sanders strongly supports.  Further, lowering student loan interest rates and increasing investments in the Work Study Program will help lower the cost of attending all schools, including private colleges in Vermont, making them more affordable than they are today.  Additionally, just the idea of being able to attend college tuition and fee-free, will increase the number of students interested in attending an institute of higher education.  By expanding demand, private colleges would still have Americans applying for their programs. Further, students who receive an undergraduate education without being burdened by tuition and fees, may be more likely to pursue an advanced degree.   Ideally, private and public universities would work together to graduate a highly skilled workforce.”

 

Clearly, there are plenty of reasons to go along with this plan. So far, it seems as though there are very few losers when it comes to this bill. Yes, Wall Street speculators are receiving a tax to make this happen, but when these people are making tons of money, regardless, I definitely think that a meagre fraction of a percent is a small price to pay for the benefit of our next generation of students.

 

College for All’s Influence on the Standards of Higher Education

Originally, I was thinking that while colleges will become more accessible for the common man and woman, there will be a drastic increase in academic standards, resulting in a stricter screening process when it comes to who is worthy to attend. Katarina has assured me, however, that “Senator Sanders’ legislation specifically prohibits colleges and universities from adopting policies that would decrease their enrollment.  Further, there are too many qualified students who are not applying to college because of the cost – not because of their abilities”

In regards to those that have already graduated, I was told that: “In the legislation Senator Sanders introduced, students can refinance their student loans to much lower rates. While that does not eliminate their debt, it does make it more manageable.  Further, for parents with student loan debt the prospect of having their children going to school tuition and fee-free would free up much needed-resources to pay down their own debt quicker.”

To wrap this up, I’ll end with a word of the wise, which Lisaius thought to impart on us:

 

“You can make an impact and your voice matters. Every person — regardless of personal background, family income, and life’s many challenges — can accomplish anything. If you study hard and work hard, you can be a voice for progress.”

 

Thank you, Katarina, for your input. We at SVC appreciate the time you’ve taken to speak to us here at The Looking Glass, and in regards to this legislation, I, for one, am really hopeful that Bernie makes it happen.

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