Several years ago, the headlines ticked across the United States in big, bold and bright letters “Student Loan Debt Surpasses Credit Card Debt.” In the U.S., the cost of education has skyrocketed at a rate exponentially greater than that of inflation.
That headline coming out now does not surprise anyone who has paid attention to the cost of a college degree go up higher than any other item on the market today.
What many may not understand is that this issue needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, the majority of the U.S. presidential candidates have not tackled the issue aside from some generic, scripted response.
The reason this issue is so dire can be reduced to three words: real estate bubble. Back in 2008, the U.S. economy, along with most major economies around the world, fell to its knees as the real estate bubble had ruptured and swept away any chance for anyone to purchase a home the same way ever again. Unemployment shot up to almost 10 percent, foreclosures were commonplace, and the number of people on a government-assisted income rose sharply. This was all the result of the government and banks footing the bill for people to buy homes they could not afford with money they did not have. Sound familiar?
Young adults, for the past 20 years, have been coerced into a culture that obsesses over the college degree. If you can’t get a college degree, you can’t get a good job. If you don’t have a good job, you won’t be able to afford to live on your own. If you can’t live on your own, you’ll never get married. If you never get married, you’ll die a lonely, miserable death. Every high school senior has heard this speech in one form or another from their parents. Technically, mom and dad are sort of right. People with college degrees earn more over their lifetime than high school graduates.
This leads students to get a degree either to appease their parents or to have a chance at a more lucrative job. With more people enrolling in school, the cost of tuition increases as a result. To add another factor into the mix, affirmative action laws and diversity quotas in universities introduces even more students, who may not come from wealthy families, enrolling in schools at higher numbers. The federal government gives out grants, loans and federal work-study funds to these students so they aren’t left out of a college degree simply because of their family’s tax bracket.
So here we have the federal government giving out money to people who cannot afford to buy a product through their own means. Because the government is paying, colleges can raise tuition with the confidence in knowing that the government is still going to cover the cost. There is a perpetuating cycle forming here. The cost of college has shot up drastically, with the government still giving out grants and loans to students who simply want to get an education. This is nothing short of reckless and will lead to dire consequences. What is even more frightening, not many presidential candidates are addressing the extremely massive elephant in the room.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) has discussed a very expensive bill, titled “New College Compact.” On her campaign website, the details of the bill seem vague and generalized. The site says in one example, “…And the typical borrower will save $2,000 over the life of his or her loans.” The average student loan debt today is a little more than $35,000. So saving $2,000 does not do much to solve that issue. Another zinger: “Families will do their part by making an affordable and realistic family contribution.” This even more vague statement implies that everyone’s family can contribute money to their child’s education. What she, along with other candidates, does not realize is many students, including myself, have had to pay for college with zero contribution from the First National Bank of Mom and Dad. Students have had to borrow several thousands of dollars on their own with no guarantee that they will be able to pay it back.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont (D) has a similar bill he has been touting on the campaign trail and on his campaign website. Estimated to cost roughly $70 billion per year, it’s like a more intense version of Clinton’s bill. Sen. Sanders wants to make all college tuition free at public universities and colleges. The bill will allow student interest rates to drop, just like Clinton’s. Both candidates say that the wealthiest Americans will have a tax increase to pay for these programs. There is criticism that Sen. Sanders’ bill, like Clinton’s, is too expensive, and will dilute the delicate balance of supply and demand of a college degree.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida (R), interestingly enough, has a plan like that of Sen. Clinton and Sen. Sanders with regards to ease of access to financial aid as well as repayment plans. All three of these candidates have similar ideas of wanting to both make college education cheaper, and reduce student loan debt. Rubio’s plan, however, does not bring any interesting or worthwhile change to the issue. It appears he is merely speaking about it as an issue that should be addressed, and moving on to what his script says.
Former Hewlitt-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (R) had two videos on her campaign site detailing what her approach to the problem would be. She says that democrats make the issue out to be worse than it actually is, and that the nationalized student loan business is a racket, comparing the national government to a loan shark to college students. An interesting point she brings up, which she hasn’t said in any of the debates, was that colleges should move towards the for-profit model.
This is a dangerous viewpoint for Fiorina to be touting because for-profit colleges and universities have been engaged in questionable practices by driving in desperate, low-income people (often single parents who just graduated from an underperforming high school) to take on tens of thousands of dollars in loans from the government and then offering them in-house loans with interest rates at almost 15 percent. Some of these universities have been caught giving money to veterans to attend their schools because they rely on GI Bills to cover the costs. This is not a solution to the problem. If anything, this will make the problem worse.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) goes into great detail on how he plans to tackle the issue of college costs and debt management. O’Malley proposes that all colleges freeze their tuitions at their current rate, make in-state public colleges and universities free, and reduce the tuition if it is above 10 percent of the medium income within the state. There is also discussion of increasing quality of education, as well as access for part-time students who may be working full-time by offering free childcare on campus while they attend school. He also makes a direct point to hold for-profit colleges to a higher standard by strictly regulating their behavior, something no other candidate mentions.
Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) has a similar idea to O’Malley and proposes to freeze the rate of tuition increase for two years while a task force is created to address the issue more directly. One point mentioned on his website was very unique: he proposes that the government should only provide funding to colleges based on their graduation rates, not enrollment rates. It was a small point, mentioned in the last paragraph on the page, but this idea would be a great start to incentivize colleges to give students a degree, instead of just keeping them enrolled for as long as possible because it is more profitable.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) does not have a very effective education policy outlined for higher education. He is focused on grade school education reform rather than college tuition, letting teachers unions know loud and clear how he feels about them. His plan, if you can call it that, is to give tax credits to people who major in certain programs, agreeing to pay some of their future income to cover the cost of college when they’ve graduated, make transferring without losing credits, and making sure every student has a detailed itemized list of expenses and be able to choose which bells and whistles they want to pay for. These ideas although not very innovative, hold legitimate merit for those who want to cut some costs. However, his solution does not bring the overhauling changes that many students want to see.
Candidates Donald Trump (R), Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R), and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) have no education policy outlined on their campaign sites. Former pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson (R) and former Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R) only discuss grade school reform in relation to the Common Core, and do not highlight a plan to deal with higher education reform.
Looking through how each candidate stands on the issues, there’s an apparent pattern that emerges. Democratic candidates have a tendency to address the issue more directly and lay out clear plans to tackle the underlying problems. Republican candidates tend to not provide many details, if at all. This gives the voter a sense of where the party’s interests lie in this election.
For young voters, this issue is one of the top concerns, and if candidates expect to reach the youth vote, they should focus on college costs and student loan reform. If not, then they will not see a strong turnout in their favor come next November.