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US Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona wants reform in college affordability

PHOENIX — U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona) wants reforms in both Washington, D.C. and his state to make college a debt-free experience.

“You should be able to go to a public university and graduate debt free, or as near debt free as possible,” Gallego said.

Arizona increased cuts to the state’s three public universities and community colleges, a move Gallego said threatens the economy.

“When we’re not investing in those universities, we’re basically divesting from a future economy,” he said.

The congressional freshman said budget conversations at both the state and national level have been “pretty awful” when it comes to funding higher education.

Gallego said, without reform, students will continue to struggle with debt and high interest rates, which limits recent graduates’ abilities to make large, economy-driving purchases.

“We are basically passing on a generational tax that is going to go on for the next 20 to 40 years,” he said. “There are parents right now who are essentially cashing out their 401(k)s and their retirements to pay for their kid’s college.”

Gallego’s call for affordable college comes as the for-profit Corinthian Colleges closed the doors on 28 campuses this week, two of which were located in the Valley.

The school was accused of fudging graduation and job- placement numbers.

He said some for-profit schools provide fine educations, while others inflate the value of their degrees and charge exorbitant amounts for tuition. Gallego said there are efforts underway to tighten restrictions.

Gallego said states need to focus on funding public universities, while Congress needs to continue funding grants that prevent parents and students from incurring debt to pay for college.