College affordability gets the 2016 campaign spotlight

Democratic, Republican candidates plan for college affordability, but views for reform are scattered.

college-affordabilityWith college tuition rising, student loan debt increasing, and more students than ever applying for financial aid, 2016 presidential candidates both Democratic and Republican are taking college affordability to the campaign trail.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) has tracked the candidates’ stances on higher education issues over the last several months, as they have proposed their own plans to increase college access and affordability, while voters pepper town hall meetings and campaign events with questions about higher education. But the higher education platforms are varied among White House hopefuls, from promises to make college debt- or tuition-free, to calls for more innovation and partnerships with the private sector.

“We are pleased to see candidates taking notice of the importance of ensuring all students have access to a quality, affordable higher education,” said Justin Draeger, president and CEO of NASFAA.

Democratic candidates have primarily focused on college affordability more broadly – with plans for debt-free or tuition-free college, as well as reforms to student loan repayment plans. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton recently announced her higher education platform, which calls for free tuition at community colleges, and debt-free tuition, fees and books at public four-year institutions, as well as a single income-based repayment option for student loan borrowers.

The 16 Republican candidates, on the other hand, have had a much wider array of stances toward higher education and student aid. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), for instance, has proposed a “Student Investment Plan” that resembles “pay it forward” college financing plans some states have considered using – investors would pay a student’s tuition, and in return, the student would pay a percentage of his or her income for a set period of time after graduating. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee have said they think students should be able to refinance their loans, an idea that has drawn the support of several Democratic candidates and has been championed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Higher education has come to the forefront of the 2016 race, particularly as candidates discuss economic inequality and workforce development in America.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

Laura Ascione