Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy
Last night’s Democratic debate between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders kicked off with a conversation about college affordability.
“I also believe in affordable college, but I don’t believe in free college, because every expert that I have talked to says, look, how will you ever control the cost? What I want to do is make sure middle class kids, not Donald Trump’s kids, get to be able to afford college,” said Clinton, as part of her reply to the first question of the evening from moderator Chuck Todd, who wondered whether Sanders' plan for free public college is achievable.
In his rebuttal, Sanders commented that, “[I]n the economy today, everybody understands that we need a well educated workforce. This is 2016. When we talk about public education, it can no longer be K through 12th grade. I do believe that public colleges and universities should be tuition free. Well, how do we pay for that? It’s an expensive proposition. I do believe that we should substantially lower student debt in this country, which is crushing millions of people. We pay for it, in my view, by a tax on Wall Street speculation. The middle class bailed out Wall Street in their time of need. Now it is Wall Street’s time to help the middle class.”
Clinton and Sanders are not the only ones talking about the pressing need for college affordability and reduction of student debt this week. Recently, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) rolled out the Reduce Educational Debt (RED) Act, a legislative package aimed at making college more affordable. The bills in the package include proposals to make community college free, allow borrowers to refinance their student loans, and index Pell Grants to inflation.
Democratic staffers tell Glamour that college affordability and the reduction of student debt are going to be a key legislative focus for Senate Democrats this year, leading to a joint effort from the party to continue to force conversation—and solutions. The RED Act—and its hashtag #InTheRed—was introduced to the public during the State of the Union, and on Wednesday, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) led a forum on the issue.
“This is really important because it’s impacting 43 million Americans,” Klobuchar tells Glamour. “And it’s going to become more and more of a drag on the economy because Americans who owe this money in student loans are not buying jeans or going on vacation or buying a house or starting a family—all these things we need to keep the economy going. This country was built on the simple idea that opportunity is for everyone—everyone should have a fair shot at the American Dream, but we’re making it increasingly hard for normal people to go to school.”
Klobuchar acknowledges that the legislation faces some uphill battles in Congress, but says "Great things don’t get passed right away.” She urges those most affected by student loan and educational issues—young people—to push their representatives to act on the issue: “Young people make a difference. I have seen all the times thing change because of activism, because people decide enough is enough and make change.”