The democratic principle of tuition-free education in our country pre-dates the founding of the United States. The first public primary education was offered in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635, and its legislature created Harvard College the following year to make education available to all qualified students. Even before the Constitution was ratified, the Confederation Congress enacted the Land Ordinance of 1785, which required newly established townships in territories ceded by the British to devote a section of land for a public school. It also passed the Northwest Ordinances, which set out the guidelines for how the territories could become states. Among those guidelines was a requirement to establish public universities and a stipulation that “the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” After the nation declared independence, Thomas Jefferson argued for a formal education system funded through government taxation.
New research sponsored by our organization, Freedom to Prosper, shows that student debt cancellation has the potential to remake the political landscape in 2018 and beyond, while freeing millions of Americans from a student debt trap that diminishes all of us.
Every so often, perhaps once or twice in a person’s lifetime, the trajectory of society changes. It happened in the 1930s, when the country found a new sense of shared purpose as it rebuilt itself under the leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt. It happened after World War II, when the era of technological and economic progress seemed as if it would never end. It happened in the 1960s, as large segments of society dedicated themselves to civil rights and social advancement.
It will not be news to 41 million Americans that this nation is in the middle of a student debt crisis. That's the number of people burdened by student loan payments. But many people, including many student debt holders, may be surprised to learn that people can be pursued for student debt even into their elder years.