It's time college tuition was free in this country. Our economic future demands it as well as our commitment to giving all our citizens equal access to higher education, which is the key to opportunity in 21st century America. Free tuition also will dramatically lighten the burden of college debt that trails so many graduates far into their lives.
Redeeming America's Promise (RAP) is an inter-generational, bipartisan alliance formed to educate our fellow citizens on the need to expand our current commitment to free primary and secondary education to higher education. The founders of RAP are members of the generation that was inspired by President John F. Kennedy's challenge to us to "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." As many of us enter our later years, we feel we have not yet done enough to insure America's success into the future. We see the Millennial Generation as America's great hope and our natural allies in this great fight.
Our plan is simple:
1. Provide free tuition for high school graduates from middle-class and low-income families by creating a federal American Promise Scholarship.
2. Use Income Based Repayment loans for the cost of room and board and similar expenses to be paid back after graduation based on graduate's future income.
3. Partially forgive these loans as a graduation present for those who get a degree and further reward those who provide additional service to their communities through the military, Americorps, Teach for America, and other civic activities with further loan forgiveness.
We believe that the U.S. could provide all academically qualified students from families earning less than $180,000 a year an American Promise Scholarship without raising taxes by redirecting monies the federal government currently spends in support of higher education, such as tuition tax credits. APS would provide $2,500 per year for community college tuition or $8,500 per year for a four year degree program. Based on today's average instate tuition rates these amounts would pay for the family's share of tuition costs at our public universities.
Our argument is straight forward: In earlier times when it became clear that access to a primary, and later a secondary, education was critical to the nation's economic development and to each individual's chances for success, we made those levels of education free and accessible to all. In the 21st century, that same logic should be applied to higher education. It is time to make college tuition free.
We believe the RAP plan is practical, and the time to pursue it is now. To learn more about this national campaign to make college tuition free, check out our website, www.redeemingAmericaspromise.org and sign up in support of our campaign to make college tuition free.
Morley Winograd, a former senior policy advisor to Vice President Al Gore, is president of Redeeming America's Promise.