Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.


This Lawmaker Wants All California Public Universities to Be Free — by Taxing Millionaires

Student debt could soon be a thing of the past in California.

California Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) has submitted a proposal to make public colleges and universities tuition free for Golden State residents.

How will the state afford the estimated $2.2 billion tab? By taxing millionaires.

Eggman’s proposal would impose a 1% tax on incomes exceeding $1 million. The redistribution of wealth is meant to bolster a shrinking middle class and to help individuals who cannot attend higher education for no other reason than that it’s too expensive.       

Read More: San Francisco to Become First US City to Offer Tuition-Free College

“We know the very wealthy continue to control a huge amount of the state’s wealth, this country’s wealth, while the middle-class continues to get squeezed more and more,” Eggman said in an interview.

Eggman’s plan would work in tandem with another proposal from California legislators that aims to expand scholarships and grants, effectively making public college debt-free for nearly 400,000 students. That plan also calls for a tax bump and would require students to work part-time.

Americans owe more than $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, according to Student Loan Hero —  and that figure is rising every year. On average, class of 2016 graduates racked up $37,172 in student loan debt (up 6% from 2015) to go with their diplomas.  

Representatives in Washington, DC are taking notice. For years, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has called for lowering interest rates on federal student loans.

The Obama administration expanded income-based repayment programs by capping monthly payments at 10% of the borrower’s income, extending repayment periods, and promising to forgive the remaining balance after 25 years. Other debt relief programs are based on years employed in public service and teaching in low-income schools.

Read More: New York Proposes Free Public College for Close to a Million Families

Obama’s plan has proven to be much more costly than originally anticipated and many argue these programs do not go far enough.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) brought the issue of student debt to the national stage during his 2016 presidential run, often citing countries like Norway, Denmark, and Germany as educational models on which to build.

Citizens of Norway and Denmark face two of the highest income tax rates in the world, yet the nations ranked first and second in the 2017 World Happiness Report.

Germany’s free higher education program costs US$14,600 a year per student. But it’s not a hand out — it’s an investment.

“It’s not unattractive for us when knowledge and know-how come to us from other countries and result in jobs when these students have a business idea and stay in Berlin to create their start-up,” said Steffen Krach, Berlin’s Secretary of Science.

Read More: Countries Where a College Degree Doesn’t Cost a Dime

A 2014 study concluded half of foreign students stayed in Germany after graduation.

The notion of raising taxes, no matter the reason, often inspires immediate condemnation. But as Norway and Denmark demonstrate, it can be worth it if the money is invested in programs that raise quality of life, like education.

The proposals in California would not include foreign students like the educational programs in Germany, but would benefit society in the same way. More educated people means more ideas and skills, which means more opportunities and more solutions.

The children of millionaires who will pay for these programs may not need financial assistance to attend college, but they can nevertheless benefit from the program too.