Debt Free Future

The Debt-Free Future Act

#DebtFreeFuture is a student-led, youth-driven movement for free public college and debt cancellation.

Photo: A student holds a sign reading “Public College Should Not Be A Debt Sentence” at Advocacy Day 2018. (Jen Ford/PHENOM)

 

The Debt Free Future Act’s (H.1265/S.823) promise is in the name. Formally titled “An Act to Guarantee Debt-Free Public Higher Education,” the Debt-Free Future Act (a.k.a DFF) would guarantee Massachusetts residents can graduate Massachusetts’ public colleges and trade schools completely free of student loan debt. 

There is no better time to demand tuition-free higher education as the student debt crisis worsens, public universities continue to raise tuition to exorbitant levels, and more and more well-paying jobs require some level of higher education. 

The Debt-Free Future Act is PHENOM’s main campaign because tuition-free college in Massachusetts should be the bare minimum, as it already is in Germany, France, Denmark, Norway and many other developed countries. 

Education is the great equalizer: everyone deserves the chance to better themselves through more education, not just the wealthy. This is especially because more skills for everyone benefit the entire Commonwealth.

More education and job training lead to greater economic productivity, higher salaries, longer lives and lower crime rates. It is no wonder that Massachusetts is the most educated state in the nation and also one of the wealthiest, healthiest and most economically productive states.

But in recent decades, Massachusetts’ prosperity has become less and less accessible to all but a wealthy few who can afford it. Massachusetts ranks among the states with the most expensive public colleges as well as decades of decreased funding for public colleges, as the state legislature has consistently cut funding for decades.

According to a report by MassBudget, “Massachusetts lags other states in higher education investment. In 2021, Massachusetts ranked 45th in higher education spending as a share of income, and 34th in per capita higher education investments.”

In turn, more and more students have been crippled by student loan debt and have had to delay key milestones such as buying a home, starting a family or continuing their education just to stay afloat. Massachusetts families went from bearing 30 percent of college costs to 60 percent from 2001 to 2018. 

A look at past prices shows it doesn’t have to be this cripplingly expensive. While a year’s worth of in-state tuition and fees at UMass Amherst in the 2022-2023 school year cost $17,364, in 1980-1981 it cost only $4,333.23, adjusted for inflation. While certainly not free, it goes to how much more affordable public college was even a few decades ago when the state actually prioritized giving universities the funding they needed. 

This is why we must turn the tide against constant cuts to higher education funding and the tuition hikes that result. We must stop the student debt crisis at the source by making our public universities tuition-free. 

So why not just make our public colleges more affordable? Is making them free really the answer since not everyone goes to college and it would be very expensive? The answer is yes, because they are a public good that everyone should have the chance to attend. America’s interstate highways are very expensive too, but since they are a cherished public good we keep them free to make everyone’s lives easier. 

It is also important to note that, at least for such a rich state as Massachusetts, funding public higher ed is very feasible. Although Massachusetts has a similar population to Denmark and Norway and is even richer, those countries have free college but Massachusetts does not. 

According to State Rep. Natalie Higgins, the sponsor of DFF, the Endowment Tax Act would fully fund the Debt-Free Future Act. This is because the bill would levy a 2.5 percent tax on all Massachusetts private universities with endowments exceeding $1 billion. If passed, the Endowment Tax Act would provide over $2 billion in revenue and more than cover the Debt-Free Future Act’s estimated cost of $1.8 billion. 

In addition, making it free for everyone encourages greater support from taxpayers since the wealthy can attend at the same cost as the poor. This would encourage them to pay into it rather than spending more money on private colleges.

Making it tuition free also removes the costly bureaucracy necessary to determine who is poor enough to qualify for financial aid and scholarships (a.k.a. means-testing) , which can make it harder for the underprivileged students it’s supposed to benefit. 

In sum, the Debt-Free Future Act would more than pay for itself by allowing millions to get a degree without worrying about crippling debt. But it does not need to pay for itself, because it could be fully funded by the Endowment Tax Act if they are both passed. In turn, we can ensure that Massachusetts maintains its prosperity, not just for a wealthy minority but for all citizens.

Please help us pass the Debt-Free Future Act: email and call your State Rep and State Senator and ask them to support DFF! Click here to send an email to your lawmakers. Then, click here to make a call to your lawmakers.

The Legislation

“An Act to Guarantee Debt-Free Public Higher Education”

(S. 823/H. 1265)

Lead Sponsors:
Senator James B. Eldridge and Representative Natalie Higgins

By Mr. Eldridge, a petition (accompanied by bill, Senate, No. 744) of James B. Eldridge, Natalie M. Higgins, Jack Patrick Lewis, Carmine Lawrence Gentile and other members of the General Court for legislation to guarantee debt-free public higher education.