Speaking Tuesday at Johnson State College in Vermont—on the same day data from the New York Fed showed student-loan delinquencies are on the rise—Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called for a “revolution” in the way higher education is funded in the U.S.

“Because of the high cost of higher education, many bright young people can no longer afford to go to college and millions of others are leaving school saddled with debt,” he said. “This is absurd. This is absolutely counter-productive to our efforts to create a strong economy.”

“We must fundamentally restructure our student loan program. It makes no sense that students and their parents are forced to pay interest rates for higher education loans that are much higher than they pay for car loans or housing mortgages.”
—Senator Bernie Sanders

The senator proposed tuition-free courses for freshmen and sophomores at all public colleges and universities, and suggested tying increased federal funding to greater state support for higher education. He also called for reforms to the federal student loan program—reforms that could be paid for by closing loopholes that give tax breaks to large corporations and the wealthy.

At a town hall meeting at Lyndon State College on Monday, Sanders reportedly said: “Can we afford to invest in higher education? The answer is yes we can. But one of the things that we have to do is institute real tax reform.”

The non-profit Project on Student Debt reported at the end of last year that of those U.S. students who did graduate in the class of 2012, seven in 10 had educational debt.

Education loan balances have skyrocketed over the past decade, and data from the New York Fed released Tuesday showed that Americans are struggling to keep up with payments. The nation’s student-loan balance climbed by $31 billion last quarter to a whopping $1.16 trillion, making it the largest source of debt after mortgages.