Three thousand dollars in student debt is accrued every second in the United States, and the average total amount by the time students graduate is about $37,000. In the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign, and among other divisive issues like immigration reform or taxes, a pressing issue rests in the minds of many college students and their families — college loan debt.
As it stands, 40 million people together have $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, and with the price of college tuition continuing to rise, the number of graduates unable to repay their loans is expected to increase. In fact, the cost of attending a higher education institution in the United States has increased by 757 percent from 1980 to 2009, which is almost five times the percentage amount that food and electricity costs have risen within the same time period. The discussion of student loan debt tends to focus on graduates of four-year universities, when in reality the vast majority of borrowers that have difficulty repaying their loans attend community colleges or for-profit universities. While the two major parties’ presidential candidates have addressed these concerns with varying policies, they do have one thing in common: Both rely on the federal government to provide aid. However, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s plan will be most effective in reducing student debt.
Sen. Bernie Sanders garnered the support of millions of students and their parents who are struggling to pay off student loans by making the issue of loan debt central to his campaign. In response to the issue coming to the forefront of this election, Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump have been forced to solicit their solutions to this mounting problem. Both candidates propose using the federal government to decrease student loan debt, but utilize two very different methods to do so. Clinton’s idea of using federal funding to encourage states to increase their financial support for public universities starkly contrasts to Trump’s proposal of threatening funding cuts to decrease administrative costs to pass savings onto students. Given Clinton’s additional proposals of expecting students to work and financial penalties for universities that do not decrease costs and tuition, Clinton’s overall plan is the best solution to help reduce student loan debt.
While Trump does not have as detailed of a plan as Clinton, both use the federal government to reduce funding if universities fail to trim costs. However, Trump’s idea primarily focuses on universities cutting administrative costs. For example, Trump plans to threaten to end the tax-free endowments that colleges receive if they are unable to reduce costs. According to policy analyst Mark Huelsman, Trump’s idea of threatening universities to reduce costs without other substantive complementary proposals misdiagnoses the root causes of student loan debt. As Huelsman asserts, Trump, unlike Clinton, has not indicated additional plans to incentivize states to more fully financially support their universities. Thus, Trump’s solution largely ignores that the decline in state government support is one of the biggest factors in the increase of student loan debt; if public state universities are unable to offer their students financial aid packages or reduce the costs of tuition, the students are forced to take out loans to cover the cost.
Clinton’s additional proposal of expecting students to work a certain number of hours per week in addition to offering states more funding to help support students aims to solve the issue of high student loan debt from multiple angles. However, similar to the Obama administration’s difficulty regarding their health care initiative, the success of Clinton’s plan depends on how well it is executed: Often times, by trying to decrease the financial costs for students, similar programs have shown to give too much money to state universities and going over the proposed budget, or underfunding the schools and failing to reach the proposal’s goal of helping students.
Ultimately, both Trump’s and Clinton’s ideas for decreasing student loan debt deal with greater federal intervention into the funding of state public universities. Trump’s main proposal seeks to threaten colleges to reduce costs and “administrative bloat,” and use the power of the federal government to force schools to eliminate tuition increases. Trump’s plan only half-heartedly serves to address the root causes. by ignoring the underlying causes of increasing student loan debt, such as the decline in the amount of funding states are able to give to public universities. By increasing federal funding to states that support public universities, as well as requiring students to work part time to increase their personal funding sources, Clinton’s plan to reduce student loans addresses more of the root causes of the problem.
Julia Lawler is a senior majoring in history and social science education. Her column, “Get Schooled,” runs Fridays.