California Democrats release plan to make public college ‘debt free’

California Democrats are making a push to offset the cost of higher education, releasing a sweeping plan to increase student aid that would be perhaps the most favorable in the nation for students – but one that may be unfavorable for the taxpayer.

“Lower-income students … are able to many times, through our great programs in California, get help to pay for tuition. But they’re still graduating with a tremendous amount of debt,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento.

The plan, unveiled earlier this month, would cover not just tuition but living expenses as well, making it different from other similar proposals in states like New York.

“California is taking the boldest step in the nation for making college debt-free,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, said in a recent press conference.

The cost for the program would come at a price tag of $1.6 billion per year, phased in over five years, and would be paid for using money from the state’s General Fund, lawmakers say.

Proponents say existing tax revenues will cover the cost, but other projections to provide universal college came in at a much higher cost of $3.3 billion annually.

Some lawmakers are skeptical of the effectiveness of the plan, especially as California confronts a wide range of other issues like infrastructure and entitlement spending.

“I think it’s well intentioned,” Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez said of the plan. “But I don’t think it recognizes the economic reality or really addresses the challenges we have to address.”

Additionally, the plan comes at a time when the effectiveness of Cal State schools is being called into question due to poor graduation rates.

For example, under 20 percent of full-time CSU freshmen graduate in four years, much less than the 34 percent national average for public universities.

The “Degrees Not Debt” program would affect around 400,000 students at UC and Cal State institutions.

It’s just one of over a dozen student-aid related bills already proposed in Sacramento this year alone to offset the cost of college, as the average student loan debt per graduate in the Golden State is $22,191.

For example, Assembly Democrats last month pushed forward a plan that would grant in-state tuition for individuals in the state as refugees.

Currently, around 60 percent of Cal State students and about half of University of California and community college students already have their tuition fully covered by existing grants and aid programs.

Student aid and college reform has come into increasing focus, partly spurred by former Democratic Bernie Sanders’ push to make all at public universities tuition-free.



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