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Posted under: Opinion

Which candidates care about your student loan debt?

Student loan debt has surpassed $1.2 trillion and economists believe the student debt bubble will cause the next market crash. Don’t we have a lot to look forward to? News of a predicted crash might be startling, but crushing debt is hardly unfamiliar to most of us. The class of 2015 has the highest average debt in this country’s history — $35,051. After mortgages, education is the highest household debt. 37 percent of households headed by someone under the age of 40 have student loan debt, up from 22 percent in 2001. Now that so many people in this country are getting squeezed, a buzz has grown around the cost of education. As elections approach, candidates have swayed toward the people’s discontent by proposing various solutions, but young people have banded together to build a movement and demand changes on their own terms. Some of us believe the most effective way to solve a problem is to work through avenues and leaders already in place; others believe that people hold the power, and when they take to the streets they can demand solutions by the people for the people. Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, I hope you have the information necessary to choose who to support, if anyone. Or hey, maybe you have an even better proposal and we can get behind you as you run for office or launch a movement.

#Million Student March

Last May, Bernie Sanders called for one million students to march in DC and demand free public higher education. He claims it is time for America to do what Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, and more already do. Sanders also notes that the University of California system and City University of New York offered free tuition in the past. The Million Student March movement developed in August, as young activists heeded his words by declaring a National Day of Action on November 12, 2015. The lead organizers describe the movement as an “independent and decentralized day-of-action led by students in response to the rapidly growing education crisis,” though they also say supporters and participants consist of “high school, college and graduate students, recent graduates, campus workers, former students, parents and grandparents.” Their demands:
  1. Tuition-free public college
  2. Cancellation of all student debt
  3. $15 minimum wage for all campus workers
The day of action has been supported by Noam Chomsky, Socialist Alternative, 15 Now, Jill Stein, Angry Millennials, Graduate Teaching Fellowship, multiple Bernie Sanders support groups, and more, and there are currently 74 scheduled actions all across the country. Movements and protests always run the risk of being unsuccessful. However, successful student movements aren’t unheard of. Tens of thousands of students protested a 75 percent tuition increase in Quebec, resulting in the increase being cancelled. Quebec now has the lowest tuition in North America.

Republicans

Leading Republican presidential candidates have given no official stance—with the exception of Marco Rubio. Rubio has proposed universal income-based repayment plans and increased access to alternative higher education options.   Essentially, Republicans address neither educational costs nor the existing and growing debt burden.

Democrats

Hillary Clinton’s plan would:
  1. Allow federal aid to be used for living expenses and books
  2. Make community colleges tuition-free
  3. Expect families to make an income-based contribution
  4. Provide federal grants to states who agree to end higher education disinvestment, increase investment gradually and work with schools to cut costs
  5. Expect students to work 10 hours per week, with wages going towards their aid
  6. Close the loophole that for-profit schools use to prey on veterans and expand support services for veterans transitioning into college
  7. Expand the number of AmeriCorps positions
  8. Create universal income-based repayment plans
  9. Renew the expiring American Opportunity Tax Credit of up to $2,500 per year for middle-class families
  10. Simplify the FAFSA process
  11. Push colleges to raise graduation rates with grants to schools that invest in support services for students
  12. Allow those seeking to advance or change career paths to use federal financial aid to pay for job training options like online coursework or short-term certification/skill programs
  13. “Crack down on law-breaking for-profits”
  14. Cut interest rates on students loans
My take? Clinton’s plan seems to be a list of things that already exist, rather than actual new ideas or proposals. Tuition will not be free, except for at community college. Students receiving aid (low-income students) will have to work 10 hours a week, mostly likely on top of another part- or full-time job. Interest rates will be cut on student loans, but the debt not eliminated altogether. States have to agree to a set of conditions in order to receive grants—this means that states can opt out. Like with Medicaid expansion, red states are very likely to reject these conditions and receive no grants, so states that already struggle the most will continue to struggle more (for example Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana). Bernie Sanders' plan would:
  1. Make public universities and colleges tuition-free
  2. Lower loan interest rates from 4.29 percent to 2.37 percent and let those with existing loans refinance with the new interest rate
  3. Triple the existing federal work-study program
  4. Require colleges to meet 100 percent financial need for the lowest income students
  5. Allow federal aid to be used for living expenses and books
In May, Sanders introduced legislation to Congress to make all public colleges and universities tuition-free. In Sanders’ plan, free tuition would make other college-related expenses more manageable.  He would ease student loan debt a bit on graduates, but not eliminate it altogether. His plan would also provide extra financial aid for lowest income students. Note: Federal financial aid is already allowed to be used for living expenses and books, but because costs are so high, it barely covers tuition alone.

Which student debt solution makes the most sense to you? Tell us in the comments below.

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