Sen. Kamala Harris helps reintroduce Debt-Free College Act in Senate

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On March 6, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA, along with 42 members of Congress, reintroduced the Debt-Free College Act, a Senate bill that would provide a pathway to affordable college tuition.

According to Harris’s press release, college debt has increased by 170 percent since 2006 and is now the second-highest form of debt. Exceeding a total of $1.5 trillion, student loan debt currently affects 44 million Americans.

“Students in America should be able to go to college to further their careers without going deep into a financial hole,” said Harris in a press release sent out March 6.

Among undergraduate students who graduated between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017, the average cumulative loan debt for graduating seniors was $18,197, according to the UC Berkeley Financial Aid & Scholarships website.

“Student loan debt is (at) an astronomical high and … needs to be addressed immediately,” said ASUC External Affairs Vice President Nuha Khalfay. “We need to see a fundamental change in the system to ensure that this doesn’t continue to be the norm.”

According to Regents Policy 3201, or The University of California Financial Aid Policy, the cost of attendance is currently met through a combination of family contributions based on financial strength, student contributions through loans or work and grants from various donors. The policy acknowledges that the financial awards that students receive will vary based on differences of campus, local conditions and priorities — stating that “some students will have more than the calculated manageable expectation for loan and work, while others will have less.”

Khalfay believes that the current high-aid, high-fee model the university uses does not work with large numbers of students and not only creates administrative issues, but also “allows a lot of students to fall through the cracks.”

“(ASUC) advocacy in the past couple of years has been focused on moving away from a high-fee/high-aid model toward something that is more equitable and prioritizes greater state funding and lower tuition,” said Khalfay.

The Debt-Free College Act is dedicated to increasing investment in public higher education and providing students an opportunity to pursue higher education free of debt. The act would create a partnership between the state and federal government with the end goal of providing debt-free college to eligible students.

Under the partnership, the federal government would provide a “dollar for dollar” match to higher education state appropriations. In exchange, the state will be expected to fulfill a commitment to help eligible students pay for college without going into debt, maintain or reduce the cost of public higher education for students and maintain or increase the academic quality of public universities.

Khalfay believes that The Debt-Free College Act is beneficial for UC students as it tries to “address the issue of how much debt college students fall into.”

Khalfay said that the ASUC is currently conducting in-depth research on the bill. According to Khalfay, her office will travel to Washington D.C. over spring break to discuss the bill and its implications for UC students.

Contact Aishwarya Kaimal at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Aishwarya_R_K‏.