This article is the first in a series examining candidates’ higher education reform plans.
With the presidential election just seven weeks away, both Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump are polishing their stances on a multitude of issues before they enter the final stretch of the campaign. One topic at the forefront of this election is higher education — with one side of the aisle outwardly focusing on issues of accessibility and rising student debt more than the other.
Clinton released her New College Compact plan months ago, proposing debt-free college as a way of addressing the issue of student debt. Trump, in contrast, has yet to release a comprehensive plan for student debt, though he has talked at length about the issue of student debt. His campaign has continuously promised to release thri platform on higher education sometime in the upcoming weeks.
Donald Trump, while making comments on the levels of student debt in the country several times during the campaign, has not released a comprehensive plan to address it. The overall GOP platform, consisting of more 60 pages, does have two sections pertaining to college costs and general higher education.
The platform calls in particular for the federal government to abstain from involvement with student loans, opting instead for the private sector to participate in student financing.
The party is also calling for all government regulations, including those that govern interest rates for student loans, to be scrutinized and challenged against potential negative economic impact on students and families.
Engineering sophomore Emma TerBeek, a supporter of the Republican Party, wrote in an email interview she believes the GOP’s conservative approach to student debt would better benefit current debt holders.
“It is my belief that high student debt is a huge concern for all U.S. citizens regardless of party affiliation,” TerBeek wrote. “My personal Conservative views are solely that Americans should rely more on privatized scholarships versus government loans or subsidies that stem from taxpayer dollars.”
The official platform states, “In order to encourage new modes of higher education delivery to enter the market, accreditation should be decoupled from federal financing, and states should be empowered to allow a wide array of accreditation and credentialing bodies to operate.”
The party made clear that they intend, by encouraging privatization, to give students more room to “customize their college experience,” according to the official platform. Trump, at multiple points during his campaign, has also pledged to “tremendously” cut funding for the Department of Education.
Sarah Anderson, communications director of the Michigan Republican Party, said in spite of the lack of an official platform on the issue, higher education is extremely important to the Republican Party.
“It is absolutely an issue for the Republican Party, and I do believe that Donald Trump will take it seriously,” Anderson said. “(The issue is) one that should be debated and one that we should talk about. Pie-in-the-sky promises are not going to help our future generations.”
Even though younger voters tend to lean liberal, the typically the older Republican voter base is still affected by the rising student debt in America, as many voters have children in college.
TerBeek noted she has personal interest in tuition debt as a student, but believes she and the rest of the student population should be held responsible.
“As a student I feel that student debt is a significant issue in my personal life but feel that in the grand scheme of things, I should not rely on the government to pay for me to go to school as I could have gone to other schools where I had scholarships (as did most people that go to U of M) but chose to go to a more expensive school where I didn’t have a scholarship,” TerBeek wrote.
Trump’s comparative lack of focus on higher education has become a campaign issue for Democrats — in a recent stop at the University of Michigan, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D–VA), Clinton’s vice presidential nominee, highlighted Trump’s lack of discussion on student debt. In an interview with Time magazine, Kaine also touched on the issue, saying Trump’s lack of a plan shows when “he brags about his own four-year degree from an Ivy League school, he has no intention of offering anyone else the same opportunity.”
Anderson, however, charged that the Democratic approach to student debt will only serve to create future problems.
“The contrast is that Hillary Clinton is promising free education, but there is no such thing as a free lunch,” Anderson said. “Free education means that somebody down the line has to pay for it. If you go to college for ‘free’ you’re going to have a hard time finding a job because taxes are going to be so high, businesses are going to close down.”
During the campaign, Clinton, Kaine and other Democratic officials have made many statements on how to fix student debt in America. As part of her New College Compact, she is calling on state governments to pull their weight and invest in higher education, in hopes of helping to lower the cost of tuition. The plan estimates that this investment will, by 2021, offer students free community college and the option to graduate from a public college or university in their state without having to take on student debt.
The Clinton administration also plans to create a $25 billion fund to support historically Black institutions and other minority-serving institutions, to make higher education accessible.
Clinton has also released a plan to tackle current student debt. Of the many objectives within this plan, some of the more prominent are cutting interest rates and refinancing loans at the current rate, aiming to alleviate pressure from an estimated 25 million debt holders. The Clinton campaign would also plans to halt actions of for-profit schools and lenders they charge take advantage of students in need, as well as simplify the repayment process for loans.
Clinton’s heavy focus on student debt speaks may speak in part to the younger nature of her base — the Harvard Political Review reported 2015 that 60 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds supported President Barack Obama in the 2012 election.
LSA junior Taiwo Dosunmu, communications director of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said he sees student debt as a top priority for the Democratic Party as a whole.
“The Democratic Party has always been pushed forward by the energy of younger people and college students,” Dosunmu said. “Those people are being impacted by student debt, so top to bottom it’s a major issue.”
Part of Clinton’s plans also stemmed from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–VT) unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic nomination, which included a promise of free tuition for every student. Clinching the nomination, Clinton included an additional promise of free attendence to in-state public schools for families who make less than an additional $125,000 a year in her plan.
LSA junior Nicholas Kolenda, former president of Students for Sanders at the University, said he believes Sanders recognized his popularity with students and subsequently made tuition-free college a cornerstone of his campaign — effectively pushing Clinton to create a holistic approach to the issues surrounding higher education.
“He moved the conversation to the left in regards to university and working towards free college,” Kolenda said. “It seems as though Clinton is still more for debt-free college than tuition-free college. Sanders definitely moved the conversation towards tuition free college.”