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Lawmakers Propose ‘Degrees Not Debt’ Plan to Help Reduce Student Loan Debt

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SACRAMENTO -- When Sacramento State students Alyssa Kimball and Garrett Porter tie the knot this August, they'll have to worry about paying for a wedding and paying back her student loan debt.

"So it'll definitely put a dent in the first year of our marriage in terms of doing things for fun. Hopefully we'll be able to tackle it,” said Porter.

Unfortunately, they're among a rapidly growing population in California dealing with at least five-figure student loan debt. The average student loan debt in California, according to lawmakers, has reached $20,000.

"It's a big problem. That's why we're doing this. It hurts their ability to start their career, buy a home, get married,” said California Assemblyman Kevin McCarty.

State lawmakers rolled out their plan Monday morning, a plan they're calling "degrees not debt" aimed at lowering the student loan burden, and ultimately creating a debt-free college experience in California. The entire plan would cost about $1.6 billion, according to lawmakers’ estimates.

"It sounds kind of too good to be true, but we think there's a realistic path in California,” said McCarty.

The plan would make Community Colleges in California tuition free for students’ first year. The proposal would expand existing grants and “degrees not debt” scholarships to students whose families make $150,000 or less per year, if those students work at least 15 hours a week and go to class.

It would also reject the governor's proposal to end the "middle class scholarship," worth about $37 million in state dollars, according to McCarty.

Lawmakers say the funding to cover the entirety of the $1.6 billion is partly available now in the state budget, with the remainder soon to be available in the upcoming years, though there is no specific outline pointing to an exact source from which the future money would come.

"We're going to phase that in over a number of years as money becomes available in the budget,” said McCarty.

He says they can do it without raising taxes. The plan will be unveiled to lawmakers Tuesday during a budget subcommittee hearing led by McCarty.