5 higher-ed issues that should dominate presidential debates

Many say the presidential candidates’ debates and discussions lack a focus on higher education—here are the issues the candidates should research

presidential-candidatesThe presidential campaign and debates among candidates have shed light on the issues most important to the U.S. public—and among those issues is higher education, from financing it, to institutions’ accreditation, to accessibility.

As Generation Z takes ownership of its higher-education future, the following issues will become even more important as a new president takes office.

Here, we offer a handful of higher education issues, along with important developments pertaining to each issue, which should be on the presidential candidates’ radar and present in their debates as November nears.

Did some issues not make the list? Be sure to include your suggestions in the comment section below.

1. The cost of higher education and the student loan debate

“We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job,” President Obama said during his Jan. 12 State of the Union address–the last of his presidency.

“And we have to make college affordable for every American. Because no hardworking student should be stuck in the red. We’ve already reduced student loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower’s income. Now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college. Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year,” he said, referencing his America’s Promise proposal, which would make two years of community college free to students meeting certain requirements. The proposal has yet to gain traction in Congress, though some states are passing their own versions of the plan.

Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both proposed that federal efforts and money should help make college more affordable.

Sanders has proposed six steps to make college debt-free, which he outlines on his website. Those steps include making tuition at public colleges and universities free and cutting student loan rates.

Clinton’s New College Compact proposes that students should not have to borrow money to pay for tuition or books at a four-year public college in their state. Family contributions will be evaluated to ensure they are affordable and realistic.

Republican candidate Donald Trump has touched on higher education as well, saying in interviews that the federal government should not make money off of student loans.

Ted Cruz has made sympathetic comments about the burden of student loans, but voted against a 2015 bill that would have made it possible for Americans to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates.

Increasing financial pathways to college accessibility should be among the presidential candidates’ top concerns. Recommendations from the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Governors’ Council outlined three critical reforms to increase college accessibility.

While colleges and universities seem to have recovered from the recession, students still bear much of the cost to attend. In the next year, institutions will have to get creative with existing funding in an effort to ease the financial burden that so often comes with higher education.

(Next page: Four more higher-ed issues the presidential candidates should cover)

Laura Ascione