Students worry Trump lacks a plan to address student debt

Thursday, November 10, 2016 - 7:37pm

President-elect Donald Trump’s unexpected victory Tuesday left some wondering how he will address a variety of policy issues — as Trump’s campaign was frequently criticized for a lack of detail on his ideas — including higher education.

On the University of Michigan’s campus, many students said they were concerned in particular about student debt and dwindling government funding for public colleges.

Millennial beliefs most frequently align with the Democratic Party, and according to CNN, with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. This trend also reflected beliefs of the student population at the University — in the most recent polling conducted by the Michigan Daily, 76 percent of respondents said they planned to vote for Clinton.

During her campaign, Clinton made a point to emphasize issues that would help her secure the youth vote, including detailed proposals to address rising student debt and increase access to higher education as a whole. In comparison, Trump never released a developed plan or position on student debt. Trump’s interviews and position statements during the campaign had few comments pertaining to student debt other than stating it is a problem.

Student debt in particular is currently a major concern for college students. More than 40 percent of Americans who have borrowed from the government’s main student loan program either aren’t making payments or are behind, according to a quarterly report from the Department of Education. These loans total more than $200 billion spread out among 22 million Americans, and those numbers are on the rise. That number does not encapsulate private loan debt.

LSA sophomore Jessica Ankley is worried about both the current levels of student debt and the prospect of an exponential growth in tuition costs.

“As someone who is trying to avoid more debt, it’s sad,” Ankley said. “I feel like it digs us deeper into this hole of student debt and being trapped within the fact that education is already so expensive.”

Engineering sophomore Morgan Meade wrote in an e-mail interview that one of the defining factors in whom she voted for in this election was which party would support her in pursuing her education.

“Trumps platform on reducing student debt is incredibly vague as he claims that he will work with congress to make sure that universities make a "good faith effort" to reduce college costs and student debt in exchange for tax breaks,” Meade wrote in an email interview. “This platform seems dismissive of the subject since most colleges are not the holders of student debt … As a young voter, I definitely wish that I could have heard more about education from both parties.”

Meade wrote that Trump’s lack of a plan is worrisome for future generations, given his influence as president.

“This shows a lack of regard for the country after his presidency since college-age students will be entering the workforce after his first term but he hasn't considered the federal assistance that many students need to complete their education,” Meade wrote. “If the next generation of college students are trapped paying off their debts for many years after graduation as students are now, the income of these students that should be spent stimulating the market will end up back in the hands of banks.”

The Republican Party platform as a whole, which consists of more than 60 pages, has slightly more on the topic, dedicating two sections to college costs and general higher education. The platform suggests that the federal government abstain from involvement with student loans and instead shift the loans to the private sector.

“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 document reads.

Cynthia Wilbanks, University vice president for government relations, said regardless of what legislative action is taken in regards to student debt, the University will continue its work in assisting students with financial aid and offering up their own experience throughout the legislative process.

“There are high-level goals in terms of helping students afford a college education,” Wilbanks said. “They certainly are the right goals. The legislative process works in largely mysterious ways. Nonetheless, it does take time for ideas to get developed into legislative bills … but we will have time to look at the specifics, have a chance to react and provide our own experience as to what we have been able to do.”