Student debt in the United States is higher than credit card and automobile debt. Forty-three million Americans combined owe $1.3 trillion in student loans.
Many of these Americans and future generations planning to go to college may not be able to afford to live in a house, to buy a car or even have children because of the huge amount of debts owed in student loans.
These are some of the facts that Senator Bernie Sanders reported at his College For All Rally at Castleton University on Tuesday.
“It is time to make our colleges and universities tuition free for the working families of our country,” Sanders said.
The legislation Sanders proposed would make all public colleges and universities free to attend for anyone in this country. It is an idea that many states, and individual colleges and universities have begun to explore and it has had great success.
According to Sanders, at the City College of San Francisco tuition is now free, and they have seen a 51 percent increase in enrollment since making the change.
“Hundreds of thousands of bright young Americans are unable to go to college for one reason and one reason alone, and that is their family’s lack of money to send them to college,” Sanders said.
The United States used to be the most educated nation in the world but it has dropped to 11th place, Sanders said. He said the United States used to have the highest college graduation rates but now, the high school dropout rates are rising and college graduation rates are falling fast.
“Eleventh place is not the place for a great place, for a great nation like the United States. Eleventh place is not the place to be if we want to be a prosperous nation and this has got to change,” he said.
Sanders attributes this to the idea that many students believe they can’t go to college because their parents can’t afford it.
He said the idea of student debt scares students pursuing a profession they are passionate about because they want to get higher paying jobs so they can afford to pay off their student debt.
This not only affects the students, Sanders said, it affects the economy as well. There is a need for more people as early education teachers, primary care doctors and public defenders, but students do not want to do these jobs because they will not be able to pay off their student loans.
“It destroys dreams,” Sanders said.
Although there are people who want to have these jobs, they simply can’t afford to do them and are forced to choose a job that pays well, he said.
Grace Adamson, one of the panelists at the event, talked about her own student debt. She owes $390,000 in student loans, without interest. She is 41 years old and is currently attending medical school to become a primary care doctor.
“It is a source of great anxiety to me,” Adamson said.
Adamson had to take all the money out her retirement fund to pay for some of her education and does not have any money for her children to go to college.
“I have less money in the bank now than I did when I was 21,” Adamson said.
Monica Keith, another panelist, told a similar story of huge debts, but of her three children.
Two of her children have graduated from college, and the third is currently enrolled. Her first two sons’ college education put her $100,000 in debt with student loans. And she will have about the same amount of debt in student loans when her daughter graduates.
When her first son went to college, they were awarded no financial aid because they increased the inventory of their family owned convenience store by $30,000.
This still was not enough to afford her son’s college education.
“I wrote an impassioned letter to his chosen school, explaining our situation in detail and begging for more help. It left me feeling humiliated and inadequate,” Keith said.
She is concerned about her retirement, much like Adamson.
“We are fortunate to have good jobs that we enjoy because retirement may never be an option.”
Sanders discussed the importance of education in terms of the future of this country as well. He said that more jobs will require education beyond high school in the United States, an estimated two thirds of them by 2020.
The jobs that students can get with a degree pay more, close to $1 million more in a lifetime if you have a bachelor’s degree Sanders said.
Sanders said that he plans to pay for this legislation, which will cost $569 million over a period 10 years, by placing a speculation tax on Wall Street. What this means is imposing a tax on all sales in the United States of stocks, bonds and derivatives.
Sanders reported that some students are going abroad to countries that offer free tuition like Germany, where 11,000 United States students have chosen to get their college education.
“This is not a radical idea,” Sanders said.
He spoke of the GI bill that allowed World War II veterans to go to college for free and he said it was one of the most successful pieces of legislation in our country.
“We created the biggest economy boom the country has ever seen and it’s not coincidental,” said Rich Clark, Castleton political science professor.
Clark, although supportive of the idea because of its success, does not think it is currently possible.
“I don’t think that the political climate is such that it is likely to happen now,” Clark said.
English Professor Burnham Holmes was more optimistic.
“It is a noble project and I think he is inspiring and making us believe that we can make it happen,” Holmes said.
He also spoke about how he believed that this speech will inspire a movement on campus to try to make this happen because it affects so many.
High school students who attended the event were especially excited about the event and the proposal.
“I absolutely loved it, I’m all for it. Anything that takes a couple dollars off of college is definitely my sort of thing,” Jacob Miner, a high school senior at Otter Valley Union High School said.
He is currently a participant in Castleton’s early college program and wants to save as much as he can.
“Being able to hear what is going to be happening in the upcoming years for us (high school students) was definitely eye opening,” said Gabby Poalino, also a high school senior also from Otter Valley.
Dylan Blair, a senior at Castleton University, believes that it is a policy that everyone should support.
“I think the policies he supports would be almost universally beneficial to the American people,” Blair said, specifically in reference to the proposed legislation.
One high school student who attended the event was shocked that Bernie’s legislation is not a new idea.
“What he said about how we used to have free college, that just sounded crazy that that ever happened,” said fellow Otter Valley senior Madison Coombs.
President Dave Wolk spoke about Sanders during the event and he praised his work over the years.
“The message you hear tonight and the message Senator Sanders gives wherever he is, no matter the odds, in public or private conversations is this, consistency. His message has never changed,” Wolk said.
He said that Sanders always thought of how he could help people through his policies, and now Bernie asks us to help him make this legislation happen.
“Tonight I am asking all of you to act,” Sanders said.