As the 2016 presidential race picks up pace, the high cost of college and how to pay for it are claiming a front-line position among candidates.
The exorbitant cost of a college education, coupled with the national mantra that higher education credentials are the ticket to a well-paying job, has created a student loan debt burden that most would agree is way out of line.
Student loan debt has soared to $1.3 trillion, surpassing Americans’ credit card debt, according to the latest data.
Politicians on both sides of the party line seem to recognize that financing college is a crucial issue among people 18 to 34 who account for about 25 percent of the nation’s voting-age population. That’s the same voting bloc that showed up in droves in the last two presidential elections.
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Tapping the young vote is a good reason for candidates to release help-to-pay-for-college proposals.
And “it’s a safe,” campaign issue, says Dale Neuman, a University of Missouri-Kansas City political science professor emeritus.
“It’s a bread-and-butter issue without emotional overtones, like abortion/Planned Parenthood,” Neuman said. “I doubt a lot of people would think it’s a good idea to have a chunk of the population shackled with college debt.”
He admits, though, that Democrats and Republicans may differ on whether government ought to be subsidizing the reduction of that debt.
But he offered this: Any public policy solutions cast in dollars and cents are negotiable — a little less money here or there — without a candidate being accused of flip-flopping. Not so with moral questions of right or wrong.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, is the latest to lay out her position — a plan for debt-free college.
Clinton’s $350 billion “New College Compact” plan isn’t completely original but rather a collection of some debt-easing ideas that have been tossed around the political arena for a while.
She proposes spending about $175 billion over a decade on grants to states and includes such notions as fining institutions that let students pile up debt they can’t pay off once they graduate, cracking down on the for-profit schools industry and allowing graduates with old debt to refinance.
Clinton’s plan also wraps in the proposal President Barack Obama announced eight months ago, to make two-year community college free for students meeting certain criteria.
Earlier this summer two of her Democratic challengers, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, said that debt-free college would be central in their campaigns.
O’Malley also said he wants to improve college and career readiness, increase college completion rates by 25 percentage points in 10 years and ensure that all college students have an option to graduate debt-free in five years.
In July, a Republican contender, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, put forth some of his ideas to counter student loan debt. One of his suggestions mirrored one previously talked about by one of his Republican challengers in the race, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Both proposed that students find investors who would pay their tuition in return for a percentage of the student’s income for a limited time after graduation.
Rubio also proposed loosening rules on accreditation agencies to allow some new low-cost options to compete for students in the higher education business.