2016 presidential candidates on higher education, student debt

Erin Douglas

Some candidates, such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have laid out extensive plans to tackle student loan debt if they assume office. Others, like Carly Fiorina, have remained essentially silent on the issue.

In Iowa, Fiorina said, “The student loan industry should be simplified,” according to The Huffington Post, but little other commentary on the subject has been made public by the Fiorina campaign.

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A main theme throughout the Republican primaries is the national debt, now up roughly $18 trillion. Some Republican nominees may be biding their time to propose solutions to student loans, for fear of losing the support of those who favor spending cuts.

Ben Carson, whose campaign is heavily focused on the national debt, does not favor the Democratic nominees’ plans to make college debt-free.

“For those who are not needy, there is an old-fashioned remedy that is very effective called work. In fact work might even be beneficial for those who are needy,” Carson wrote in the Washington Times.

Carson’s remarks are a stark contrast to Bernie Sanders’ stance on the affordability of higher education. The Sanders Plan would make all public colleges and universities tuition-free, according to Sanders’ campaign website. The plan would cost the federal government about $47 billion a year, according to the New York Times.

“The Clinton plan doesn’t go far enough,” stated Sanders’ campaign website

Hillary Clinton proposes a plan to lower the student debt and refinance those with existing student loans. The plan also puts more pressure on the states and universities to fund higher education.

Major points of Clinton’s student debt plan:

  • Would cost the federal government $350 billion over 10 years
  • Funded by capping the value of itemized deductions wealthy families can take on tax returns
  • Expects families to make a “realistic” contribution to tuition costs through savings or loans
  • Expects students to contribute to college education by holding part time job at 10 hours per week
  • Require schools to control their cost and show improvements on graduation rates
  • Requires states to end budget cuts for higher education
  • Requires states to increase spending for higher education and work to slow growth of tuition

Clinton’s plan takes some of the pressure off the federal government by requiring schools to control their costs and show improvements on graduation rate. The plan would also require states to invest in higher education.

While most of the Republican nominees do not have as extensive plans to reduce student loan debt as Clinton or Sanders, many have expressed support for students and acknowledged the problem.

Donald Trump, the current Republican front-runner, does not believe the government should be profiting from student loans.

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“That’s probably one of the only things the government shouldn’t make money off — I think it’s terrible that one of the only profit centers we have is student loans,” Trump said in an interview with The Hill

The Republican nominees have been under much less pressure than the Democrats to take a stance on student loans — in fact, it was only mentioned once in the entire second Republican debate, when Ted Cruz said he would make more jobs available to college graduates to combat their student loans. 

When Jeb Bush talks about education, he focuses on defending common core for K-12, an issue nearly all other Republican candidates have recoiled from — he has said little concerning higher education or student loans. However, as governor of Florida, Bush banned the use of race as a factor in university admissions. He has also been known to support for-profit colleges

Marco Rubio is an author of the “Student Right to Know Before You Go Act,” which aims to provide more information about the value of a major at a specific university before a student invests.

“I believe that before any of our young people take out student loans, that school has to tell you how much you can expect to make when you graduate from that degree from that school so people can decide whether it’s worth borrowing tens of thousands of dollars to major in basket weaving,” Rubio said in Iowa.

Rubio is the only Republican nominee with a definitive higher education platform.

Major points of Rubio’s student debt plan:

  • Reforms accreditation system to welcome low-cost higher education providers — by creating competition for existing colleges and universities, prices will decrease
  • Requires schools to tell students how much they can expect to earn with a given degree before they take out loans
  • Creates financial aid programs that allow working students to go to school at night, online and on weekends
  • Makes career and vocational education more widespread
  • Ties a traditional loan repayment to each graduate’s income
  • Supports alternative forms of higher education such as online degrees

The candidates’ decision on whether or not to propose a plan for student loans may make or break their win with students in Colorado come March 1, since Colorado funds higher education at one of the lowest rates in the country.

Collegian Reporter Erin Douglas can be reached at news@collegia.com or on Twitter @erinmdouglas23.