The figure is stunning. According to ABC News, right now Americans have more than a trillion dollars in student debt, and that number rises at the rate of $2,800 every second. In December, thanks to a new Federal plan, students will pay as they earn, meaning they will pay no more than 10% of their earnings towards their debt. But this still doesn't lessen the amount of money many students will owe for life.
As we move ever-closer to the 2016 election, one thing is clear: we need to elect a candidate who cares about reforming a system that feeds on student debt.
So where do the front-running GOP candidates stand on student loan debt? None of them want to take the major steps necessary to reform the system. Jeb Bush wants colleges to do more to ensure students graduate on time, but colleges have advisors, who can help a student do so. Plus, many students work to support families and pay for the cost of living while going to college. According to a new Georgetown University study, between 70 and 80 percent have had a job while an undergraduate, which makes it hard to graduate on time. Jeb Bush can't force colleges to lower tuition costs so kids can graduate on time.
Meanwhile Ben Carson opposed Obama's free community college idea, and thinks colleges should be responsible for the interest on loans--which would mean higher tuition costs. Nothing going there.
Donald Trump says the Federal government shouldn't profit from student loans. The government borrows at an interest rate of 2% and loans that money to students at a 4% interest rate, through which it has made over $41 billion in profits. Anyone can say they don't think this is fair, but Trump hasn't proffered a solution as to how he'll fix it. He does want to create more jobs, but any candidate will say the same thing. And college grads don't want a job building a wall on the border.
To be fair, Marco Rubio has offered a detailed plan. He wants to create new financial aid programs, he wants to improve vocation and career education programs. But neither of these would help ease current debt. Rubio also wants colleges and universities to tell students what they're likely to earn based on their degrees, vs what they'll owe in debt--this seems like it would simply deter people from getting a degree. In terms of repaying accrued debt, Rubio's plan would be "commensurate with the graduate's income." But the new Federal "Pay As You Earn" program that will go into effect in December already takes into account graduate income.
Right now, graduates have to rely on things like this Student Debt Repayment Guide, which lets them know that if they pay $100 more a month they'll avoid $2,400 in interest payments. Helpful, but what if that $100 has to go towards insurance for their family, or rent, or any of the other myriad bills a graduate has in today's economy?
The situation is such that, the Huffington Post reports "Student Debt is Already a Hallmark Issue for 2016". On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders wants to socialize the process and make a certain percentage of the wealthy pay for public higher education--but it's not clear what that percentage would be. Both Sanders and Clinton support directly lowering student loan interest rates. Clinton wants to provide refinancing opportunities, while Sanders supports a bill to revert the interest rate formula to the one used before 2006.
Both Democrats emphasize a more comprehensive approach to helping students and graduates than the Republicans do overall. That's not a surprise. What's a surprise is that we haven't done more to help grads and students already. We need to elect the candidate who's willing to do the most.