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

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), co-Chair of the Senate Hispanic-Serving Institutions Caucus, joined Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in reintroducing the College for All Act, legislation that would expand access to college for millions of working-class children. This legislation represents the most significant federal investment in higher education in the modern history of the United States. As the nation seeks to reconcile the burden of student loan debt, the College for All Act would alleviate undue financial stress for working families and open economic opportunities.

As tuition costs have increased by 295.2% since 1963, a college degree has become an unattainable dream for too many Americans. Moreover, students who take on the cost of attendance are too often encumbered by a lifetime of student loan debt. This bill would allow working-class students to attend – tuition-free – public community colleges, public trade schools, and public four-year colleges and universities. It would also ensure that the vast majority of students enrolled at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) can attend tuition- and fee-free.

“As a first-generation college graduate who came from a low-income household, I understand the challenges of accessing and affording higher education,” said Senator Padilla. “The College for All Act would help millions of working families shoulder the financial burden of paying for their children’s college. It is in our nation’s best interest to invest in all students to ensure that the American dream and economic prosperity are attainable to all, regardless of income.”

“Today, this country tells young people to get the best education they can, and then saddles them for decades with crushing student loan debt. To my mind, that does not make any sense whatsoever,” said Senator Sanders. “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. 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. Education is one of the keys to a successful democracy and we must make it easier, not harder, for young people to obtain the degrees they have worked so hard for.”

This legislation would guarantee tuition-free community college for all students and allow students from single households earning up to $125,000 a year, and married households earning up to $250,000 a year, to attend college without fear of being saddled with student loan debt. If passed, the College for All Act would also:

  • Double the maximum Pell Grant award: $7,395 to $14,790 for the 2024-2025 school year for students enrolled at public and private non-profit colleges;
  • Expand Pell Grant Eligibility to DACA, TPS, and DED students
  • Establish a $10 billion grant program for states participating in the federal-state partnership to scale evidence-based practices and strategies;
  • Triple Federal TRIO funding from $1.191 billion in FY23 to $3 billion in FY24;
  • Double GEAR UP funding from $388 million in FY23 to $736 million in FY24; and
  • Double mandatory funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and other Minority-Serving institutions.

In addition to Padilla and Sanders, the legislation is cosponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

Senator Padilla believes every student should have access to high-quality and affordable education opportunities so that they can pursue their dreams. Last year, Padillacosponsored 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. During his first term in congress, Padilla introduced the Basic Assistance for Students in College (BASIC) Actto ensure college students are able to meet their basic needs while pursuing their education. Senator Padilla also led the bicameral, bipartisan introduction of the Hispanic Educational Resources and Empowerment (HERE)Act to close the enduring gap in college completion for Hispanic students. Padilla also cosponsored the Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Actwith Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to double the Pell Grant and expand access as well as the award for working students and families.

A summary of the bill is available here.

Full text of the bill is available here.


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