New Bill by Reps. Pocan and Ellison Is a Critical Step Towards Making Debt-free College a Reality for Working-Class Families

Release Date: 
July 14, 2016

Yesterday, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) introduced The Degrees Not Debt Act. This legislation would create a state-federal partnership program with the Department of Education, states, and public colleges or universities in order to ensure college affordability becomes a reality for all Americans.

The bill would reward states which contribute more towards their public university system by providing federal matching dollars to encourage reinvestment. The Degrees Not Debt Act also requires that secondary costs, such as books and housing, for students living at 350% of the poverty line (approx. $85,000/year for a family of four) are fully met through a combination of work study and financial aid awards. This legislation is a critical step towards making debt-free college a reality for working families. 

“Students, particularly those from working class backgrounds and communities of color, have borne the brunt of crippling and counterproductive cuts to public colleges and universities for over three decades,” said Demos President Heather McGhee. “The ability to attend and graduate college without debt was once the norm, and returning to that system requires a new federal-state partnership that encourages states to reinvest in public higher education and targets resources at students for whom college has simply become unaffordable. We applaud this effort and believe it is urgently needed in order to renew the promise of affordable and debt-free public college.”

Public colleges and universities rely heavily on state funding to operate and keep the cost of tuition low. In the last decade, state funding for public higher education has declined due to state budget cuts, lingering economic slowdown following the Great Recession of 2008, and other factors. Demos research has found that state funding for public institutions remains below the pre-recession average, and the decline in state support was responsible for almost 80% of the rise in tuition costs between 2001 and 2011.