As student loan debt reaches $1.2 trillion in the United States, presidential candidates from all ends of the political spectrum have begun outlining their plans to reform education policy. Loan debt and education reform have been major talking points during the Republican and Democratic primary seasons, and quite a few have something to say.
Democratic candidates are gearing up to tackle the burden of student loan debt. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is currently the only democratic candidate with a detailed published plan allocating money toward making college more affordable.
Clinton’s plan, called The New College Compact, would cost $350 billion over 10 years, according to the plan’s outline. Money would go toward state and college grants, helping relieve student loan interest and furthering investments in the education system.
She has also mentioned having an Income-Based Repayment system, a plan shared among other democratic candidates as well as some Republicans. The IBR caps student loan amounts based on income and family size.
Republican candidate Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is also focusing on making the IBR more accessible. Rubio plans to make the IBR system the universal system of repayment.
“Up until just five years ago he still had a mountain of student loan debt,” said Mary Mertes, Mizzou for Rubio president and Mizzou College Republicans member. “He understands, and he sees that it's really important that we fix that, which is why I think he’s putting such an emphasis on it.”
Rubio’s plan to reform higher education also includes allowing private investors to put money toward individual students to ensure their success. In addition, Rubio plans to create a new accreditation system for vocational and technical colleges, so that alternatives to four-year universities receive more acknowledgment in the workforce.
Political Science Professor Bryce Dietrich said that though he supports this plan, it will not change the cultural opposition to vocational college.
“(It) is a much more difficult problem to convince someone in high school that you going to a vocational college is not you failing,” Dietrich said.
Mertes, however, disagrees.
“He has a plan laid out to give them credit for the education they provide, and I think once that happens it will go a long way towards turning public opinion around,” Mertes said.
Democratic candidate former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley also wants to shift to the IBR system and refinance student loans in order to make college debt free. While his policies seem similar to other candidates, he does plan to make new changes in some areas.
A few details that set O’Malley’s plan apart from other Democratic candidates are that he will expand the current work studies program and tie tuition rates to median incomes. This means that in-state tuition would be no more than 10 percent of the state’s median income for a four-year college and five percent at a two-year institution.
Donald Trump and Ben Carson
Current Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has not spoken extensively on his plans to reform education, only stating that the Department of Education should be cut down drastically.
The Republican candidate just behind Donald Trump in current polls is Ben Carson. On his official campaign website, Carson promotes “local control” of primary and secondary education. Unlike Trump, Carson wishes to utilize the Department of Education.
“I actually have something I would use the Department of Education to do,” Carson said in an interview on the Glenn Beck Radio Program. “It would be to monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias, and deny federal funding if it exists.”
College could soon be free if Democratic candidate Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is elected president.
His College for All Act proposes cutting student loan interest rates down to 2.37 percent and allowing students to refinance their loans at low interest prices. His plan would also require public universities to meet 100 percent of their lowest-income students’ financial needs.
Sanders said all expenses would be paid for by taxing “ Wall Street speculators.”
“The Wall Street profiteers are hedge fund managers, traders and investors who are earning millions to billions of dollars a year,” said Laura Mikytuck, spokeswoman for Mid-Missouri for Bernie Sanders.
This plan has been a focal point of Sanders’ campaign. It has drawn support from some, but others question where the money will come from and whether it’s worth that much additional funding.
“This idea of ‘you don’t have to pay tuition,’ that would be very difficult to administer,” Dietrich said. “That being said, doing something like really decreased tuition, I could imaging that type of policy because it serves a broader function.”
However, many argue that the only way to receive all the benefits of education is to make it tuition-free.
“Allowing everyone the opportunity to attend college is not a socialist idea, it is providing Americans with a freedom they should have: education,” Mikytuck said. “Sanders wants to ensure education is seen as a right, not a privilege.”