Mobile Menu - OpenMobile Menu - Closed


Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Flickr icon
Instagram icon

Debt-free College Isn't a Fantasy. Just Give it Time

June 11, 2015
In The News

Our Turn: Debt-free college might sound like a fantasy right now, but it doesn't have to stay that way.

To solve big problems, you need big ideas.

That's the theory we're applying to our debt-free college initiative.

No major change happens overnight. It's going to take time to steer our country toward a national conversation on college affordability. It's going to require continued outreach to experts and activists. And, yes, like any major legislative proposal, it's going to require the right timing, compromise and some luck.

In short, our proposal faces the same hurdles as any major policy that has ever been presented to fix a big problem in our country.

Ten years ago, marriage equality, near-universal health care and a federal agency designed to protect consumers were only ideas. Those ideas went from dead-on-arrival, to divisive wedge issues to law of the land in just a decade.

The pace of reform can be frustratingly slow, but that doesn't make our goals any less just or deserving of our best effort to bring needed change.

The cost of higher education has reached record highs, making it impossible for the many working and middle-class families we represent in Arizona to afford a college education for their kids. Just since 2009, tuition for in-state students at Arizona's public universities has increased more than 80 percent.

Over 40 million Americans have student loans to repay, with an average debt burden of $29,000. As a result, young people are struggling to start a family, buy a home or even own a car.

We've heard criticism that our proposal is unrealistic — even a "fantasy" — because Republicans won't agree to the funding mechanism we propose of taxing corporations to make attending college debt-free.

To that criticism, we ask: Would it be better to propose a bill that we don't think is the best solution to the problem?

Rather than trying to take on a big issue that has damaged our economy and put untold pressure on the middle class, should we instead sit back and wait for the stars to perfectly align for us to present our idea on how to fix it?

There are plenty of ways to fund debt-free college education. We can start by closing some of the most egregious tax loopholes that benefit only corporations and the uber-wealthy.

As the rich get richer off the public's dime, we continue to neglect the pressing issues facing the vast majority of the American people. We've seen a 60-year decline in investments for education, housing and the future of our country. It will take political will to end this trend. If we have the courage to act, there is plenty of room within the budget to ensure every student has the opportunity to earn an education and a brighter future.

The debt-free college proposal is a starting point for discussion about how we can address the high cost of college education and burdensome levels of debt. There are things we can start doing now to move the needle, like increasing college credits received at the high school level, or standardizing credit transfers between public two-and four-years schools.

But make no mistake, we have our eyes on the prize, we are playing the long game and we know that a debt-free college education is achievable if we just work together to find solutions.

Reps. Ruben Gallego and Raúl Grijalva are Democrats. Gallego represents a central Phoenix district. Grijalva serves a Tucson/southwest Arizona district.