By Sam Levine
A group of congressional Democrats introduced a resolution on Tuesday seeking to ensure that students who attend public colleges and universities can graduate without debt.
The Senate resolution was introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), while Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) introduced the House version.
The lawmakers support plans to increase financial aid, help states lower tuition and make it possible for students to earn degrees in less time.
In a statement, they noted that the cost of college has increased by 300 percent over the last 30 years and that when students graduate with debt, it has negative effects on the economy.
“When students graduate with loads of debt, the ripple effects are endless; they're less likely to start a business, to buy a house, and to realize their full potential," Schumer said. "When it comes to making college affordable, I'm hopeful that debt-free college is the next big idea."
A White House report released last year said 71 percent of students who earn a bachelor's degree graduate with debt averaging $29,400. Fifty-nine percent of students who graduated in 2012-2013 with a bachelor's degree from a four-year public institution were in debt and had borrowed, on average, $25,600, according to data collected by the College Board.
On Tuesday, Warren called that debt "crushing."
“Our country should be investing in higher education and working with colleges and universities to bring down tuition costs so that students don't have to take on crushing debt to get an education,” she said.
President Barack Obama in January proposed making two years of community college free for any student who has at least a 2.5 grade-point average, attends at least half-time, and is either making progress toward completing their program or transferring to a four-year school.
The debt-free resolution is backed by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which is hosting events at town halls at several public colleges and universities across the country this week. Some of those events are scheduled at schools in Iowa and New Hampshire, as the committee hopes to make debt-free college a key issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.
A paper co-authored by the PCCC and Demos, a liberal think tank, argues that debt can be reduced through a combination of educational offerings and accountability measures. The groups' suggestions include increasing the number of advanced placement courses and early college high school programs that are offered, ensuring that schools aren't using federal money for advertising and requiring schools with large endowments to guarantee debt-free college.