Candidates seeking to capitalize on historic rates of student turnout in this year’s presidential race are taking public stances on student debt and higher education funding and accessibility.

Democrats addressed education policy upon announcement of the current front-runners’ campaigns. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (D–Vermont) campaign centers around education, particularly tuition-free public universities, as a key issue in his bid for the Democratic nomination. Sanders’ opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, accordingly debuted a wide-reaching plan called the New College Compact, which aims to create debt-free college, also calling specific attention to the issue of sexual assault on college campuses.

Businessman Donald Trump, the freshly minted presumptive Republican nominee, had yet to focus on his appeal to college students prior to his competitors’ dropping out of the race for the party’s nomination. While Trump has yet to announce a cohesive platform on his campaign site, he has become more vocal on the issue.


Both Sanders and Clinton made education reform central to their campaigns, but approached policy changes differently.

Sanders focuses on ensuring all students can attend public universities and colleges for free, boasting a history of attempts to tackle the rising cost of attending college. Last May, Sanders introduced the College for All Act on the Senate floor, which aimed to allocate $47 billion each year toward paying off undergraduate students’ tuition and fees at public institutions.

Sanders’s current platform goes beyond free tuition to cut student loan interest rates down to 2.32 percent. The senator also calls for an expansion of need-based financial aid and work-study programs to assist college students, all of which is estimated to cost $74 billion per year. Sanders claimed he would finance this hefty budget by taxing Wall Street speculators.

In a March interview with the Daily, LSA junior Nicholas Kolenda, president of the University of Michigan’s Students for Sanders, said Sanders’s plan is inclusive of the entire population.

“It’s a slippery slope when you exclude people from public goods because they can’t pay for it,” Kolenda said. “We don’t exclude the top one percent from public growth because they can privately pay for college.”

Clinton, on the other hand, does not plan to make college entirely free. Her New College Compact plan solely targets the exponential rise of college debt, tasking universities with taking responsibility for their tuition levels.

Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations at the University, said the University is similarly working more closely with students in response to candidates’ demands to hold universities more accountable for tuition levels.

“The most important thing is that we have receptive students and families,” she said. “One of the ways we have been called to be more helpful is spending more time with what it is students are expected to do in terms of financial aid.”

LSA junior Anushka Sarkar, outreach director and event coordinator for Students for Hillary, said Clinton’s plan is far more attainable than the one proposed by Sanders. Clinton aims to lower debt, but also require families to make an affordable and realistic family contribution to the cost of college.

“I am confident that she will be able to (cut tuition), and there is a difference between an idealistic policy and a pragmatic policy position,” Sarkar said. “Hillary can make it more affordable and refinance student loans — that’s realistic, that’s something you can hold the president accountable for. Free college is not.”

Overall, Clinton’s plan is projected to cost about $350 billion over the course of 10 years, which Clinton has said she would raise by closing tax loopholes and expenditures for wealthy individuals. This includes grants the federal government would distribute to states that are able to commit and cut interest rates on loans.


As the presumptive nominee, Trump is preparing to roll out a full-fledged platform on higher education. Sam Clovis, the co-chair and policy director of Trump’s campaign, outlined possible ideas and policies in an interview with Inside Higher Ed last week.

While Trump and his campaign staff have yet to lay out specific details, they are preparing for what they assume will be a highly debated topic come the general election. In the interview, Clovis said the current proposals would drastically change the current system of student loans and require that all colleges share the risk of these aforementioned loans. Students under a Trump administration, Clovis said, should not expect a free college education.

“How do you pay for that?” he asked. “It’s absurd on its surface.”

Clovis emphasized, however, the campaign would remain open to new ideas.  Most notably, Clovis said the campaign wants to move student loans into a private market — overhauling President Obama and Clinton’s previous work on the issue— who both worked to expand federal loans for students.

Trump and Clovis, akin to their Democratic counterparts, believe in holding institutions accountable. Clovis explained the greater investments in students will alter the types of students admitted to their institutions. This will create a closer relationship between the students, colleges and banks — leaving out parent contributions and federal aid.

“(Universities) need to have more skin in the game,” Clovis said.


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