Proposed Legislation Aims for Tuition Free College

On the heels of the Trump administration’s recent legislative disappointments, Democrats are rallying to show competency where the GOP failed.

Democratic candidates for the presidency campaigned for affordable higher education—and now they have their chance.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) introduced a bill to the 115th Congress last Monday that would make college free for most low-income students. Senate Bill 806—the bill to amend the Higher Education Act to ensure College for All—provides tuition-free public university education for students whose families earn less than $125,000 per year.

“Higher education in America should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few,” Sanders said in a Monday press conference. “If we are to succeed in a highly competitive global economy and have the best-educated workforce in the world, public colleges and universities must become tuition-free for working families and we must substantially reduce student debt.”

Student debt nearly tripled from $480.1 billion in 2006 to $1,397.3 billion in 2016, according to the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Rep. Jayapal proposed a House version of the bill designed to alleviate economic pressure on working-class students pursuing secondary education, according to her website.

“Our young people are forced to make untenable choices: going to college and taking on mountains of debt, or foregoing their college degree to work part-time or minimum wage jobs that simply won’t allow them to build a future,” Jayapal said.

The cost will be paid for by a tax levied on Wall Street by increasing fees for investment houses, hedge funds, stock trades, bonds and fees paid on derivatives.

Crystal Gorham Doss, Assistant Teaching Professor in English, instructs on composition, literature, and gender studies at UMKC. After receiving her PhD in English from the University at Buffalo (SUNY), Doss applied in 2011 at UMKC to begin her vocation in public service.

“We all benefit from affordable higher education in numerous ways—from a more educated workforce to more educated citizens,” Doss said.

Like many others, including the bill’s biggest proponents, Doss is excited, but skeptical of its passing in the current political climate. But for her and others, that isn’t the point.

According to Doss, the proposal shifts the discourse on higher education away from how it benefits and serves the student as an individual to how it benefits our nation generally.

“Education is a public good that improves our society, not just the lives of individuals who are lucky enough to be able to afford it,” Doss said.

Currently,  41 percent of UMKC’s $351,873,429 operating budget goes toward student instruction. The average tuition for a student taking 15 credit-hours is around $4,800/semester.

Kelsey Mynatt, a sophomore, said the College for All Act would be great for her family since they meet the income cap. This is Mynatt’s second semester at UMKC. She transferred from Northwest Missouri State University to pursue her degree in accounting and plans to eventually go into corporate tax law.

“It’s hard to keep up,” Mynatt said. “I am an orientation leader on campus and I also do accounting work for a cattle registry company.”

But it isn’t just about the students.

Adjunct faculty and staff often work long hours without compensation outside the classroom — but a provision in this bill corrects that while also providing faculty with professional development opportunities, office space, and shared governance in the institution, according to a press release by the Service Employees International Union.

Doss wants to see affordable higher education, but not at the expense of adjunct teachers like herself and her colleagues.

“I do worry about cost. Specifically, public institutions turning way from full-time or tenure-line faculty towards more adjunct labor to deliver this free or lower cost education,” Doss said. “I don’t think affordable education and fair working conditions are incompatible by any means, but I do think both issues need to be addressed together.”

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