2016 Campaign Coverage: Higher Education Reform Plans

As the Iowa caucus approaches, the campaigns for primary candidates for both the Democratic and Republican presidential nomination are becoming hard to miss. With only months left until primary voting kicks off, the time to solidify a choice in nominee approaches. Although a well-reasoned choice requires a holistic look at a nominee, certain issues are more important to college students than others. One of those being education––particularly, post-secondary education.

 Photo credit: Marc Nozell

Photo credit: Marc Nozell

Hillary Clinton, the current leader of the Democratic primary race, has established a comprehensive plan for educational reform which she calls the New College Compact. This plan relies on increases in government investment in higher education by providing $17.5 billion per year in federal funds for states to reinvest in public higher education. While families will still be expected to contribute to the college fund and students will need to work about 10 hours a week to help pay, this plan ensures additional support to reduce the costs associated with a college education-- including books, tuition, and living expenses. Under the New College Compact, community college would be tuition-free. In terms of post-graduation debt, this plan cuts interest rates for borrowing and allows for refinancing loans for debt relief so that students never have to pay more than 10 percent of what they make. Clinton’s plan is estimated to cost around $350 billion over 10 years––a large sum that will be fully paid for by limiting tax expenditures for high-income taxpayers.

 Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Bernie Sanders, who is quickly coming up behind Clinton in the polls, has a plan which he calls “revolutionary.” Sanders believes the right to a college education should be guaranteed and should therefore be subsidized by the government. His ideas for reform are thoroughly laid out in the College for All Act, a bill he proposed to the Senate in May, 2015. This plan relieves students and families of all debt by splitting the $70 billion tuition costs at all 4-year public colleges––33 percent to the states, and the remaining to the federal government. To help with pre-existing debt, the bill proposes the reduction of student loan interest rates from 4.32 percent to just 2.32 percent. To cover the cost of this reform, the bill outlines a group of financial transaction taxes, also known as Robin Hood tax. This tax targets Wall Street with a 0.5 percent speculation fee on investment houses, hedge funds, and other stock trades, as well as a 0.1 percent fee on bonds and a 0.005 percent fee charged on derivatives.

 Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Joe Biden, a favorable, albeit unofficial, candidate has worked closely with President Barack Obama to come up with a plan to reform higher education. In the absence of an official campaign website, Biden’s stance may be predicted from his work in office. In 2007, the Obama-Biden plan for higher education proposed the creation of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a “universal and fully refundable credit” that ensures $4,000 completely free for most Americans in exchange for 100 hours of community service. This plan was later amended and incorporated into the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. More recently, Biden has reiterated support for increasing taxes on wealthy Americans and banks to make the first two years of community college free, echoing ideas expressed in Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address centered around “middle-class economics.” This educational subsidy would be provided to students who attend a college in the government’s program and who maintain academic excellence.
 

 Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump, the GOP primary frontrunner, has expressed limited opinions on education in the United States. Although his official campaign website offers no stances, Trump has expressly supported opposition to Common Core in primary and secondary education, as well as the suggestion that the Department of Education could be cut “way, way, way down.” He has also agreed that the federal government should not profit from student loans, but has not elaborated beyond that.

 Photo credit: Michael Vadon

Photo credit: Michael Vadon

Ben Carson, who is rapidly approaching Trump’s lead, has been more vocal on higher education. Carson supports the idea that colleges should foot the bill for the interest rates of student loan borrowers. In February, he wrote an op-ed in The Washington Times wherein he stressed personal responsibility for the free college ideas proposed by President Obama.

The bottom line: Sanders and Clinton both have major plans for tuition reform for public institutions. The major difference is that while Sanders hopes to eliminate tuition at all four-year public colleges, Clinton aims to move towards making college more affordable by lowering costs and student loans, but not eliminating them. Biden’s call for reform seems to follow that of President Obama however the current absence of a campaign and issue stances makes it difficult to outline his plan exactly. As for the Republican frontrunners, whatever vague opinions about education expressed have thus far not been accompanied by a plan as comprehensive as that of Clinton's or Sanders'.

All poll references taken from HuffPost Pollster, a chart that regularly compiles all the latest opinion polls into one trend.

Kate Bakhtiyarova '19