WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, has introduced legislation that will create new opportunities for students who commit to future public service careers to receive debt-free undergraduate education.
Cardin’s bill, S. 686, the Strengthening American Communities Act, expands the ways in which public servants can finance their undergraduate educations. Rather than taking out student loans to pay for their degrees, the act establishes the National Public Service Education Grant to provide students with the majority of the cost of their degrees. Colleges will contribute a portion of the remaining costs for students, and the students, by accepting the grant, will commit themselves to at least three years of public service.
“No individual willing to serve their community in a public service career should be held back from their calling due to the high cost of obtaining a college education,” said Senator Cardin. “This legislation is a first step toward enabling people to serve their communities without being hobbled by massive student loan debt, and by providing current public servants with the financial freedom to continue to heed their calling to service.
“The current system of indebting individuals at the start of the careers has led to minority underrepresentation in our public sector workforce. First-generation college students and students from low-income families cannot afford to take on student loan debt and enter into lower-paying public service careers,” Senator Cardin added. “As a result, our nation is deprived of the talents and perspectives of those who want to serve their communities but simply cannot afford to do so, resulting in our workforce that is less representative of the people it serves.
“The partnerships created under the act among the federal government, states, community colleges, public, private and non-profit universities, minority-serving institutions, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities ensures students have a pathway to complete their degree without the burden of taking on exorbitant student loan costs,” said Senator Cardin. “Those individuals already engaged in public service would receive more immediate federal student loan forgiveness under the legislation, ensuring that repaying student loan debt does not force individuals to make a choice between service and salary.”
University and community leaders have expressed strong support for this new legislation.
“Senator Cardin’s enlightened approach to supporting students that pursue careers in public service has made a real difference in fields such as public health, and would be very helpful to many other students who want to make a difference in their communities,” said University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh. “We welcome new efforts to help these students succeed.”
“By leveraging federal funds with state and private resources, the Strengthening American Communities Act creates powerful incentives to expand college access, reduce student debt, and strengthen the public service workforce,” said Maryland Independent College and University Association President Tina Bjarekull. “Maryland’s independent colleges and universities pledge their support and commit to embrace the innovative public service challenge. We commend Senator Cardin for his continued leadership in support of students and the advancement of knowledge.”
“To meet the complex challenges facing our country, government needs a skilled professional workforce capable of functioning in a fast-changing, data-and technology-driven environment,” said Max Stier, President and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. “Today, we have an aging workforce, with more than twice as many federal workers over the age of 60 than under 30. Tuition assistance and loan forgiveness programs can provide important incentives for a new generation to answer the call to public service, and to help reinvigorate the federal workforce.”
“I am proud to say that the University of Maryland Student Government Association’s Executive Board and Cabinet has voted to unanimously endorse Senator Cardin’s Strengthening American Communities Act, which will help generate greater interest in public service among young leaders,” said UMD Student SGA Student Body President Jonathan Allen. “This bill will make the University of Maryland and colleges around the country more affordable and accessible for students, enabling them to pursue higher education and careers in public service.”
The text of the bill can be found here and a one-page description of the legislation can be found at this link.