Padilla Joins Sanders, Jayapal to Introduce Bill to Make College Tuition-Free and Debt-Free for Working Families

100+ Grassroots Groups and Unions Support Legislation Modeled on Biden Campaign Plan

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) joined Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) in introducing the College for All Act to open up the dream of a college degree to millions of working-class children. The legislation would make the most substantial federal investment in higher education in the modern history of the United States and its transformative potential is on par with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Higher Education Act of 1965. While the Biden Administration reviews how much student debt the president can cancel without Congress, the College for All Act will end the debt spiral in which too many working families find themselves.

In February, Padilla cosponsored a resolution calling on President Biden to use his authority under the Higher Education Act to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt for federal student loan borrowers. Padilla is also pushing to prevent current and future students from having to take on burden of student debt, and recently signed onto a letter calling on President Biden to work with Congress to double the maximum Pell grant award.

“As a first-generation college student, I know the hurdles that far too many people face in accessing quality, affordable higher education,” said Senator Padilla. “Every American deserves a shot at the American dream without having to make the impossible choice of earning a degree or being saddled with a lifetime of debt. It is time for Congress to take action. The College for All Act is smart investment in our future that will ease the burden of student loans for working families, make public colleges tuition free, and ensure higher education is accessible for all.”

“In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, a higher education should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few,” Senator Sanders said. “If we are going to have the kind of standard of living that the American people deserve, we need to have the best educated workforce in the world. It is absolutely unacceptable that hundreds of thousands of bright young Americans do not get a higher education each year, not because they are unqualified, but because their family does not have enough money. In the 21st century, a free public education system that goes from kindergarten through high school is no longer good enough. The time is long overdue to make public colleges and universities tuition-free and debt-free for working families.” 

“While President Biden can and should immediately cancel student debt for millions of borrowers, Congress must ensure that working families never have to take out these crushing loans to receive a higher education in the first place,” Representative Jayapal said. “The College for All Act will free students from a lifetime of debt, invest in working people, and transform higher education across America by making community college free for everyone and eliminating tuition and fees at public colleges and universities for families making up to $125,000.”

The legislation if passed would guarantee tuition-free community college for all students, and allow students from families earning under $125,000 a year to attend public colleges and universities tuition-free and debt-free. It would also guarantee students from families earning under $125,000 a year can attend tuition-free and debt-free public and private, non-profit Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions, and other Minority-Serving Institutions. The bill also makes an annual $10 billion federal investment to cover student support programs at these under-funded institutions.

The College for All Act doubles the maximum Pell Grant to $12,990, allows students to use the money to cover living and non-tuition expenses, like books and housing, and expands grant eligibility to Dreamers. 

The legislation also triples federal TRIO and doubles GEAR UP funding to serve millions of additional low-income students, students with disabilities, and first-generation college students in their pursuit of a higher education.

The federal government’s share of the cost of eliminating tuition and fees at public institutions is set at 75% with states paying the remainder. But the legislation also includes an automatic stabilizer to increase that share to 90% in the case of an economic downturn.

In addition to Padilla and Sanders, the bill is cosponsored in the Senate by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and endorsed by more than 100 organizations. 

Read the bill summary here.

Read the legislative text 

Read organizational statements of support 

Read the names of more than 700 academics who support the bill 


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