U.S. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin's guest for the State of the Union was Britney Woods, a native of Racine, Wisconsin and current student at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside student concerned about college affordability.

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and Senate Democrats have formally launched a new legislative package and campaign, dubbed #InTheRed, aimed at pushing Congress to address college affordability in 2016 and putting America on a path toward debt-free college.

At a press conference in the U.S. Capitol building yesterday with Senate Democrats and dozens of students and advocates, they introduced the new legislative package, the RED (Reducing Educational Debt) Act, which includes a college affordability reform authored by Senator Baldwin, the America’s College Promise Act. The legislative package also includes reforms to address the significant loss in value of Pell Grants by adjusting them for inflation, and allowing borrowers to refinance their existing student loans at lower rates.

“The idea that the next generation will be able to go further and do better than the last one is the heart of the American dream, and the solutions we are offering today deserve a vote in Congress,” said Senator Baldwin, a member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. “It is my hope our colleagues on the other side of the aisle will join us in confronting the student debt crisis and supporting these commonsense reforms that not only make higher education affordable, but can help give more Americans a fair shot at pursuing their dreams.”

Baldwin has long made college affordability one of her key issues and just last week she invited Britney Woods, a native of Racine, Wisconsin and current student at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside student, to be here special guest at President Obama’s final State of the Union address.

“I met Brittney at a student roundtable [discussion on college affordability] I held earlier this year and invited her to be my guest at the President’s State of the Union address to highlight the need for Washington to take action on college affordability and the student debt crisis,” Baldwin tells Madison365. “This year, I will continue my focus on this issue and make it a top priority of mine because higher education should be a path should be a path to the middle class, not a path to indebtedness. We need to answer the call of students and families in desperate need of action to address the student loan debt crisis and make higher education more affordable.”

Senate Democrats also announced yesterday, as part of the #InTheRed college affordability campaign throughout 2016, that senators will be visiting college campuses and meeting with Americans saddled with student loan debt as a way of highlighting the urgency for Congress to act to pass this legislative package and the overall need to put America on a path toward debt-free college. Senators will share the stories they hear on Capitol Hill over the coming months and urge their Republican colleagues to support this legislative package.

Under the RED (Reducing Educational Debt) Act, a full-time community college student could save an average of $3,800 in tuition per year, and, if all states participated under this program, an estimated 9 million students throughout the country could benefit. The legislation, modeled after Senator Baldwin’s America’s College Promise Act, would also hold colleges accountable by making a condition of the grant that training programs are tied to the skills needed in today’s economy and that credits are transferable to four-year institutions. Specifically, this legislation:
◆ Creates a new partnership between the federal government and states to help them waive resident tuition in two years of community college programs for eligible students, while promoting key reforms to accelerate student success; and
◆ Provides a federal match of $3 for every $1 invested by the state to make waive community college tuition and fees for eligible students before other financial aid is applied; and
◆ Ensures that programs offer academic programs are fully transferable to four-year institutions in their state, or occupational training that leads to credentials in an in-demand industry; and
◆ Maintains and encourages state funding for higher education; and
◆ Establishes a new grant program to provide pathways to success at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions by helping them cover a significant portion of tuition and fees for the first two years of attendance for low-income students.