Nikita Richardson
August 11, 2015 7:51 am

Following last week’s truly bonkers Republican debate, it’s safe to say that the 2016 presidential election is already off to an interesting start. But behind all the vitriol, double-talk, and glad-handing, there are some glimmers of what we may have in store from the more level-headed candidates for the presidency—and we have to say the future is looking a little brighter.

This week, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who announced her bid for the presidency in early April, made her way to New Hampshire to share a new plan for tackling the crippling student debt that most college-educated people face. While speaking at Exeter High School, she outlined her plan to make it easier for college students and their families to pay tuition without taking out a crippling amount of loans. Here’s a breakdown of the plan.

First, just how bad is the student debt crisis?

Bad enough that there’s an entire organization dedicated to fighting it. At $1.2 trillion, more Americans are suffering under the weight of student loan debt than the number who are living with credit card debt, which currently makes up about $901 billion in American personal debt. The reason? The cost of college tuition has wildly outstripped the household earnings of low- and middle-income American families, and while more people have access to a decent education than ever, less can afford to attend a public or private four-year university or college. Meanwhile, of the millions who do go through with getting their education, 8 million have defaulted on their loans, effectively ruining their credit.

So, what is Hillary Clinton’s plan?

Under Clinton’s new plan, parents will have to take out some loans to cover tuition and students will be required to work at least 10 hours a week while roughly $175 billion in grants would be allocated to states that guarantee students four years of tuition-free schooling at the state’s public colleges and universities working to up their graduation rates. In exchange, states will have to put a stop to budget cuts on education spending, and drastically slow the meteoric rise of tuition prices.

Meanwhile, those who are already dealing with debt will be given better refinancing options (meaning they may be able to lower the interest on their loans) while 175,000 more students will be allowed to join the Americorps community service program, which offers access to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program among other perks. Finally, low-income students who are eligible for Pell Grants will finally be able to use the entitlement to cover living expenses as well as their tuition.

What plans are the other Democratic candidates offering?

Compared to plans from Democratic presidential hopefuls Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, Clinton’s plan looks downright conservative. While O’Malley hasn’t offered much in the way of a plan other than to “set a national goal that all students have access to a high quality debt-free college education within 5 years, attainable at any in-state public college or university,” Senator Sanders—a socialist hero in his own right—has proposed spending $47 billion in government spending and $23 billion in state spending to make higher education a debt-free endeavor.

How will the Clinton program be paid for?

Indeed, there is no such thing as a free lunch. To pay for this program, which will cost at least $350 billion over ten years, Clinton plans on “capping the value of itemized deductions that wealthy families can take on their tax returns.” In other words, the so-called “1 percent” will have fewer excuses to pay less in taxes.

What problems could the program run into?

Well, there’s the fact that a program like this, with its liberal leanings, will run into a lot of trouble once it goes before a Republican-controlled Congress—who already shot down Senator Elizabeth Warren’s student debt bill just last summer. Remember, only Congress can “lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” And then, the plan needs to receive support from state governments, which will be key allies in controlling the inflation of college tuition and providing free tuition to four-year public institutions.

But! There is some hope. First, this plan doesn’t entirely rely on the government to make it work. Funding will come from taxes. And secondly, student loan debt is affecting everyone, regardless of race, background—or political affiliation. When the aforementioned Warren bill went before the Senate last summer, it got support from three Republicans to advance it to debate and that’s a starting point.  

While it’s still way too early to make a call on this upcoming election, we are glad to hear that the student debt crisis a large part of the conversation. After all, higher education should empower and uplift people without sending them into despair over the long-term costs of broadening their horizons.

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