By Kristen Warfield and Nate Sheidlower
Democrats in the Senate recently introduced legislation aimed at pushing congress to address the issue of student debt now and work to make college more affordable. The Reducing Education Debt (RED) Act was formally unveiled on Jan. 21, but there will be no voting just yet, according to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).
On Thursday, Feb. 11 Schumer held a conference call with multiple student-run newspapers from public and private universities across New York to outline some of this plan and push for its support. The campaign, #InTheRed, was launched to rally college students throughout the country to demonstrate their interest in the passing of this bill, according to Schumer.
He said the legislation will pass through Congress only if both sides are in favor of it, which is why they have not yet called for a vote in the Senate. The hope is that the #InTheRed campaign will show how many students are in debt or will be in debt and desperately want change.
“Student loan debt has become a burden on the shoulders of millions of young Americans and holding back their ability to pursue their passion live a comfortable lifestyle or achieve the American dream,” Schumer said on the call with The Oracle. “College should create a lifetime of opportunities, not a life sentence of debt.”
The total debt held by students surpassed $1 trillion almost a year ago and 61 percent of New York college students graduate owing $28,000 on average. Additionally, interest rates for federal student loans are higher (4-7 percent, according to navient.com) than say that of a small business loan (2-3 percent, according to the U.S. Small Business Association).
If passed, the RED Act would stop state increases of tuition and lower interest rates for federal student loans, according to Schumer. This portion of the legislation was previously introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in 2014.
“For too long we’ve talked about the problem but nothing’s been done and we can do better, it is long past time we started on the past to making college debt-free for every student in the country,” Schumer said.
Schumer also outlined that the RED Act would make two years of community college tuition free. This, he said, would help students on the path toward earning an Associate’s and later on, a Bachelor’s degree. This portion of the plan could save an average of $3,800 in tuition per year, Schumer said.
Though other Democrats like Sen. Bernie Sanders or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continue to show support for student debt alleviation, Schumer said he expects Senate and House conservatives to withhold support due to its goal to eliminate tax breaks for large companies, commonly referred to as the Buffett Rule. He hopes that the #InTheRed campaign will sway these thoughts to gain bipartisan support.
“In the early 1900s, high school didn’t exist and the U.S. then made a goal of having high school be free for all people going through 12th grade, making America the most productive wealthiest country in the world,” Schumer said. “We should be moving in that direction in the 21st century for college.”