Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, announced a proposal Tuesday that would make undergraduate tuition at four-year public colleges and universities free to students. The idea would be largely funded through new fees on Wall Street.
“It'll strengthen our economy and give us a better-educated workforce,” said Sen. Sanders, who is also running to the left of Hillary Clinton in seeking the Democratic nomination for the White House.
The Wall Street speculation fee would be levied on investment houses, hedge funds, and other speculators, according to a summary of the legislation posted on the website of Sen. Sanders. The fees would amount to $.50 on every $100 of stock. A .1 percent fee would be tacked onto bonds and a .005 percent charge would be levied on derivatives.
It is estimated that the fees could raise hundreds of billions of dollars a year, Sanders said. Through that, the federal government would cover two-thirds of the free college tuition, with states responsible for the remaining third, according to the legislation summary.
Nationally, total tuition at public colleges and universities amounts to about $70-billion a year, according to the office of Sen. Sanders.
The Independent, who is a self-described Democratic Socialist and admirer of how several European nations provide free higher education, also wants lower interest rates on student loans. The legislation Sanders introduced would give borrowers the ability to refinance student loans at lower interest rates, as homeowners can currently do with their mortgages.
“It is totally absurd that in America today, we have hundreds of thousands of bright young people who can no longer afford to go to college,” Sanders told necn.
Other reforms the College for All Act would implement include expanding the federal work study program, which offers part-time employment to students, and simplifying the student aid application process, Sanders added.
As for Sanders' proposal to tax Wall Street to make college free, many observers believe the GOP-controlled Congress will pay little or no attention. Still, Sanders said Washington has to do a better job of listening to families struggling to pay for education.
Separately, education leaders in Vermont announced Tuesday that high schoolers can continue taking up to two college courses free.
“This is really quite a big deal,” said Jeb Spaulding, the chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges. “It’s really a major economic advancement tool for many students who wouldn’t otherwise get to post-secondary education.”
A state law was about to make towns kick in half the costs, possibly stifling participation in the so-called “dual enrollment” program which more than 1,000 Vermont students took part in in the past year, according to Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont.
A new fix means the state education fund will now cover the costs of that coursework, Shumlin announced, noting he would like to see more students apply to dual enrollment programs before upcoming deadlines.
Kenyan-born Lule Aden, 18, a senior at Burlington High School, said she enjoyed taking University of Vermont classes well before she even graduated high school. She said she will be the first in her family to go to college when she heads to UVM in the fall, planning to study communication sciences and disorders.
“Taking these courses, getting a feel of how college feels, and how the courses are, and how long classes are, I feel more prepared for it,” Aden said, describing how her dual enrollment experience left her more ready for college. “And I'm going to be able to do it and hopefully be successful.”