"Tonight, President Obama delivered his last State of the Union and laid out his hopes not just for his final year of presidency but also his vision for the future of America.
"As more and more students fall under the weight of student debt, it’s only fitting that one of his first points was to address the crisis, saying 'We have to make college affordable for every American. Because no hardworking student should be stuck in the red. [...] Now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.'
"Indeed, providing two years of free community college is a big deal and would begin to fix our broken higher education system. However, as Demos research has shown, to really transform our higher education system and get to the root of the problem we need to return to debt-free public college by reinvesting in our state universities and colleges. Not too long ago, thanks to public investment, students were able to graduate from good schools, establish careers, and provide decent lives for their families debt-free. Today, however, nearly three-in-four graduates take on debt for a degree, and average debt for those who attain a bachelor’s degree has reached $30,000. And it's working class and Black students who are most likely to need to borrow. They do this with the hope but no guarantee that they will see any returns on their investment.
"A return to debt-free public college would signal to all aspiring future college students, the most diverse our nation has ever seen, that our nation is committed to providing the same opportunity previous generations enjoyed.
"President Obama has made it clear that the White House is still looking out for vulnerable students and borrowers by promising to fight for his free community college initiative. In its final year, the Obama Administration can also clarify bankruptcy protections, stop garnishing Social Security payments for long-standing student debt, offer more extensive income-based repayment plans, and establish quick debt relief for defrauded students. Finally, now is the time for presidential candidates and policy makers to declare how they will build on the foundation that Obama is building and create a higher education system that truly works for all of America’s students: one that no longer requires five-figure debt."