A Ford and a college education used to be the same price, but these days an education at NYU costs $60,000 a year, compared to $20,000 for a Ford today.
During a conference call with New York college newspapers addressing college affordability on Thursday, Senator Chuck Schumer repeated that comparison his colleague told him, although that is only a small part of why Schumer wants to help college students graduate debt-free.
“For too long, we’ve talked about the problem, but nothing’s gotten done,” Schumer said. “So we can do better. This time, we’re doing things a bit differently. Rather than introducing a bill, forcing a vote, and having it fail, Senate Democrats all across the country will be ramping up the pressure on Congress to act using the #InTheRed campaign.”
Schumer said he wants students to speak up by using social media and by rallying for support on this issue. It’s an interesting strategy, but Schumer isn’t completely eschewing traditional tactics — a large part is a three-part bill called the Reducing Education Debt Act, also known as the RED Act. It will allow student loan borrowers to refinance their debts at lower rates, make two-year community college tuition free and work with colleges to avoid cost increases.
“This is a little similar to what both Senators Clinton and Sanders have proposed,” Schumer said. “We’re not taxing middle-class people for any of this. We’re just saying that the very wealthy and the big oil companies, who many times pay lower rates of taxes than your parents, should pay more.”
Schumer said he envisions a future education system modeled after Germany’s: where higher tax rates allow German students to attend public universities without paying tuition and minimal fees. Germany also boasts lower unemployment rates and higher income levels post-graduation, but it is important to note that the country’s population of young adults is significantly lower than that of the U.S. Schumer cited the cost of the program as a possible obstacle in passing the RED Act.
“Government invests lots of money in K-12, and here’s an interesting thought,” Schumer said. “In the early 1900s, high schools didn’t exist, and the United States made a goal of having high school be free for all people going through the 12th grade. It made America the most productive, wealthiest country in the world, and we should be moving in that direction in the 21st century for college.”
While governments normally engage in public school funding, the bill will also affect private school students, by arranging lower interest rates for student debts. While presently going as high as nine percent, the bill aims to lower the interest rates. Schumer compared it to the three percent in which the federal government charges to big banks for overnight rates and said the government should not be making a profit off students.
“What we call for is accountability among the colleges and that we would want each of them to come up with a plan of how they’re going to reverse the increases in tuition,” Schumer said while discussing both private and public school. “You get a very good education, but it is also expensive and the cost keeps going up.”
He added that New York has a lower tuition rate than many other states, even though a reporter from Stony Brook University noted that New York ranks 25th for students with most student debt. And while he wants to get America on the road to tuition-free college, he thinks debt-free college is both a more cost efficient and realistic goal.
“College should create a lifetime of opportunities, not a life sentence of debt and financial strain,” Schumer said. “Many countries across the world are working to make higher college more affordable, and America is lagging behind. It’s long past time we start on the path to making college debt free for every student in the country. That’s our goal.”
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