New Bill Proposes Free Community College, Four-Year College

The College for All Act would substantially expand higher education access in the U.S.
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Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Published on June 20, 2023
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  • The bill would make President Biden's call for free community college for all a reality.
  • Supporters in Congress would take this one step further to create tuition-free four-year college for those making $125,000 or less annually.
  • Lawmakers say they would pay for the program through the recently introduced Wall Street Speculation Act.
  • The proposal has virtually no chance of clearing the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Progressive lawmakers are again pushing a bill to massively expand college access for low- and middle-income Americans.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent representing Vermont, and U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat representing Washington, introduced the College for All Act in their respective chambers on June 14. The proposal would eliminate tuition for all community college students. Also, some students below an income threshold may be able to attend a university for free.

A federal-state partnership would eliminate tuition at public colleges for single households earning $125,000 or less, and married couples making $250,000 or less annually. The federal government would foot the entirety of the bill in the first year of the program. And after five years, state contributions would reach 20% of the total cost, according to a summary of the College for All Act.

"In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, a higher education should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few," Sanders said in a statement. "It is absolutely unacceptable that hundreds of thousands of bright young Americans do not get a higher education each year, not because they are unqualified, but because their family does not have enough money."

President Joe Biden has repeatedly pushed for free community college throughout his presidency. His latest budget proposal included a $90 billion plan and a more limited $500 million option.

This marks the fifth time legislators have proposed some version of the College for All Act. Sanders has introduced it in the Senate all five times, dating back to 2015.

The College for All Act would be a historic expansion of college access in the U.S.

However, it stands virtually no chance of making its way through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Even so, the recently enacted debt ceiling deal limits non-defense spending over the next two fiscal years.

Other things the College for All Act would include:

  • Doubling the maximum Pell Grant award for the 2024-25 academic year
  • Establishing a $10 billion student success grant program
  • Doubling mandatory funding for minority-serving institutions (MSIs)
  • Tripling federal TRIO funding
  • Doubling funding for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP)

Sanders and Jayapal say the College for All Act would be paid for through the recently introduced Tax on Wall Street Speculation Act. This bill would place taxes on stock trades and create new fees on bonds and derivatives. Lawmakers say it would raise $220 billion per year if enacted.

The House version of the College for All Act attracted 39 co-sponsors, while the Senate bill attracted eight. None of the co-sponsors are Republicans.