The New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) honored U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders with a 2017 Excellence Award at the Vermont State House in Montpelier on April 11.
Sanders was first elected as a U.S. senator from Vermont in 2006, and was reelected in 2012 with 71% of the vote. He was Vermont's sole member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1990 to 2006. He is the longest-serving independent in U.S. congressional history.
Sanders focuses on economic issues such as income and wealth inequality, raising the minimum wage, universal healthcare, reducing the burden of student debt, making public colleges and universities tuition-free, and expanding Social Security benefits. He is a prominent supporter of laws requiring companies to give their workers parental leave, sick leave, and vacation time, noting that such laws have been adopted by nearly all other developed countries.
Polls have shown Sanders to be among the most popular senators in the country. He has served as ranking minority member on the Senate Budget Committee and chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. He also serves on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, as well as the Public Works and Environment, and Energy and Natural Resources committees.
A self-described democratic socialist, Sanders ran for the Democratic Party's 2016 U.S. presidential nomination. Emphasizing economic inequality, he raised more money in small, individual contributions than any other candidate in American history.
During the presidential campaign, he introduced a free tuition proposal that energized the campaign and inspired others to advance their own proposals to encourage college affordability. His plan would have funded access to degrees regardless of family income and, he pledged, would have revived the American dream for all young people. The plan would eliminate tuition at four-year public colleges and universities, estimated to cost $70 billion a year, with two thirds of the cost expected to be covered by the federal government and the remainder by the states. It would be paid for by taxing financial transactions.
Last week, Sanders and several lawmakers introduced legislation to make public colleges and universities tuition-free to students with a family income of up to $125,000. The College for All would also make community colleges tuition-free for all students, decrease student loan interest rates by 50%, and triple funding directed to the Federal Work-Study program. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) joined Sanders in sponsoring the legislation in the Senate. The House legislation is being sponsored by Reps. Ellison (D-Minn.), Jayapal (D-WA.), and Nolan (D-Minn.).
"The senator's free tuition proposal has altered the dialogue at a time when the cost of college has become a major concern for families and a cause among other politicians," said NEBHE President and CEO Michael K. Thomas.
Sanders holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago. As a college student, he was an organizer for the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
After graduating from college, Sanders worked at a variety of jobs, including Head Start teacher, psychiatric aide, carpenter, filmmaker and writer. He was elected mayor of Burlington, Vt., in 1981, and was reelected three times, serving until 1989.
About NEBHE's RSP Tuition Break
NEBHE also used the Montpelier visit to mark 60 years of its RSP Tuition Break in Vermont.
The program provides Vermont residents with access to specialized undergraduate and graduate degree programs at public campuses in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island--all at a substantial tuition discount.
The program has provided more than $1 billion in savings to New England since 1958.
The RSP provides a tuition break to Vermont residents enrolled in approved degree programs at public campuses in the five other New England states, and provides a reciprocal benefit to eligible New England residents enrolled at Vermont's public institutions. Vermont residents are eligible for more than 1,000 undergraduate and graduate degree programs with the RSP Tuition Break.
In 2016-17, the RSP provided the following benefits in Vermont:
• Average Annual Tuition Savings for Vermont Residents $6,879
• Total Annual Tuition Savings for Vermont Residents $2.9 million
• Total Annual Tuition Revenue from RSP Enrollment $8.9 million
• Total Net Tuition Revenue from RSP Enrollment $3.1 million
• Total Annual Fee Revenue from RSP Enrollment $698,957
• Number of Vermont residents enrolled under the RSP: 517 or 427 FTE
• Number of RSP students enrolled at Vermont public colleges: 564 or 513 FTE