Amid increasing concerns about rising college tuition costs and crushing student debt, the Center for American Progress has weighed into the debate with a “College For All” proposal to eliminate barriers to college access.
The proposal specifically targets students from lower and middle-income households, outlining a plan to encourage them to seek a degree. CAP’s plan is a step in the right direction for educating our youth and in turn having a smarter, stronger workforce.
CAP proposes an early guarantee of federal financial aid, citing studies that show the United States declining in the international tertiary education rankings and another one claiming 65 percent of jobs in 2020 will require at least an associate or bachelors degree. “College for All would provide every high school graduate financial support at a level up to the tuition and fees at a public four-year college or university, so that all high school graduates and their families know that they can afford college,” a CAP statement says.
CAP isn’t the first to suggest such an idea. Various other countries and even some U.S. states have either implemented a similar system or have flirted with the idea. Australia was the first country to let students go to college for free and pay back the tuition later (a program that started in 1989). Students in Australia, no matter their economic background, can go to college and will only repay the cost once they are earning the U.S. equivalent of $45,000 a year. Students cannot default on loans, and the interest rate is calculated based on current economic conditions. Each student is allotted a specific amount of money, which serves as a disincentive to either dropping out or staying in too long.
Oregon legislators have also proposed a “pay-it-forward” system, in which a student can attend a public institution and proceed to pay back the state after graduation for a set number of years. The proposal passed the state legislature, but has yet to be implemented due to concerns from the Oregon higher education board and budget shortages. Lawmakers in Ohio are also pushing for a similar plan.
In addition to suggesting a change in the way students may pay for school, the CAP plan also encourages more transparency and accessibility in the process. Currently, high school students looking to apply for college and financial aid fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. In recent years, there have been revisions to make the form easier to complete, but its complexity can still present a challenge to families attempting to apply.
CAP says that the “overall goal of this endeavor is to ensure that the United States has the skilled workforce and educated citizenry to achieve inclusive prosperity and economic growth.” If students aren’t able to go to college, there is a shortfall of qualified workers, in turn crippling the economy.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama announced his plan to make all community college free. That is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done. The American public needs to pressure Congress to enact a comprehensive plan to make college fully affordable, enabling students from all economic backgrounds to seek the education they want and need.