Senator and Hillary Clinton presidential challenger Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today introduced legislation to make four-year public universities totally free.
The 35-page College for All Act would give states $47 billion each year in federal grants to operate. These schools currently rake in about $70 billion in tuition each year, so states would be left to pick up a third of the tab.
“To qualify for federal funding, states must meet a number of requirements designed to protect students, ensure quality, and reduce ballooning costs. States will need to maintain spending on their higher education systems, on academic instruction, and on need-based financial aid. In addition, colleges and universities must reduce their reliance on low-paid adjunct faculty,” Sanders’ office said in a description of the bill. “States would be able to use funding to increase academic opportunities for students, hire new faculty, and provide professional development opportunities for professors. No funding under this program may be used to fund administrator salaries, merit-based financial aid, or the construction of non-academic buildings like stadiums and student centers.”
What’s the pay-for? A “Robin Hood tax” on Wall Street.
“This legislation is offset by imposing a Wall Street speculation fee on investment houses, hedge funds, and other speculators of 0.5% on stock trades (50 cents for every $100 worth of stock), a 0.1% fee on bonds, and a 0.005% fee on derivatives. It has been estimated that this provision could raise hundreds of billions a year which could be used not only to make tuition free at public colleges and universities in this country, it could also be used to create millions of jobs and rebuild the middle class of this country.”
Sanders said today that it’s “a national disgrace that hundreds of thousands of young Americans today do not go to college, not because they are unqualified, but because they cannot afford it.”
He noted that free college would be like stepping back in time, since the University of California system didn’t begin charging tuition until the 1980s and in 1965 average tuition at a four-year public university was just $243.
Sanders stressed that his bill means “any student, regardless of his or her background or income, who has the ability and desire, will be able to get the education they need and the education they deserve. This legislation opens the door for a middle class life to millions of young Americans and will make our economy stronger and more productive.”
He also defended his pay-for: “More than 1,000 economists have endorsed a tax on Wall Street speculation and today some 40 countries throughout the world have imposed a financial transactions tax including Britain, Germany, France, Switzerland, China, India, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and Brazil.”