Student debt is a huge problem in the United States, with the average student debt hitting a record high of $27,000 recently. But college wasn’t always this expensive in the United States. In fact, in some parts of the country it was virtually free.

For many years, dating back to the 19th century, California state colleges and universities were tuition-free. At most, students were asked to pay a small fee to cover certain university expenses (in 1899 this was $10 per semester).

When Gov. Ronald Reagan (R) took office, he insisted on imposing a new fee that would later become synonymous with tuition, thus ending California’s tradition of providing virtually free education to qualified college students. Since then, tuition has slowly skyrocketed, eclipsing the ability of many middle class Californians to get an affordable education.

In the past five fiscal years, California public colleges and universities have had the second-sharpest increases in tuition among any state in the country. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities illustrates this:

But 1,800 miles away, another state may get a chance at giving its students tuition-free college. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Halter has unveiled a plan called the “Arkansas Promise” which would make any state college tuition-free for a student who graduated from an Arkansas high school and can maintain a 2.5 grade point average.

We’ve launched a campaign to support Halter’s bold plan to guarantee tuition-free college to students who work hard. Click here to sign on as a citizen supporter of the Arkansas Promise.