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Democratic Debate: Presidential Hopefuls on College Costs

One issue of particular importance that has been up for discussion has been higher education. More specifically, the costs and debt associated with higher education are what make it a hot button issue.

Elizabeth Hoyt

October 14, 2015

Democratic Debate: Presidential Hopefuls on College Costs
In the wake of the first democratic national debate, the nation has been reflecting on the presidential hopeful’s responses on a plethora of issues. One issue of particular importance that has been up for discussion has been higher education. More specifically, the costs and debt associated with higher education are what make it a hot button issue. Where does each candidate stand on college costs? How does each candidate plan to tackle our nation’s student debt crisis? And, what does each candidate plan to do to make college more affordable, if anything, for students of generations to come?

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While college affordability, student debt and the higher education crisis the nation has been experiencing was not a main issue of the debate, most of the candidates discussed the issues at hand. Read on to find out what each Democratic nominee hopeful said in the party's first debate regarding college issues that will impact students across the nation.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Who is she?

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Former First Lady (married to former President Bill Clinton), U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State, Clinton has been a frontrunner as a the Democratic Party’s candidate even before she announced her presidential campaign.
Stance on higher education:
Clinton has expressed that she believes in the right to a college education, though her plans have been criticized as being defensive responses to Sanders’ strong approach to college affordability and, in reality, are comparably restrained when it comes to making college free.
During the debate:

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• Mentioned the need to drive down the “outrageously high” cost of college
• Emphasized that her debt-free tuition plan would require that students work 10 hours a week
• Stressed that her plan would work to reduce the cost of higher education and help students refinance their loans
• Plan supports in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants but states should drive those policies
Notable Quote:
“As a young student in Nevada said to me, the hardest thing about going to college should not be paying for it. So then we have to make it more affordable. How do we make it more affordable? My plan would enable anyone to go to a public college or university tuition free. You would not have to borrow money for tuition.

But I do believe — and maybe it’s because I worked when I went through college; I worked when I went through law school — I think it’s important for everybody to have some part of getting this accomplished. That’s why I call it a compact.”

Senator Bernie Sanders

Who is he?
Currently a Vermont Senator, Sanders is also a former House member and mayor of the city of Burlington. He’s self-described himself as a democratic socialist.
Stance on higher education:
Sanders has a strong personal connection with higher education. His wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, is the former president of Burlington College.
Sanders’ plan requires colleges to eliminate tuition and fees for in-state students, requiring states to cover the total cost of attendance (including room and board and textbooks costs) for Pell-qualifying students (minus the amount they receive from Pell grants) and would compel states to maintain current public college funding levels. In other words, he wants to make college free and accessible for all. In the past, Sanders has criticized the federal government for profiting from student loans and has a history of supporting legislation that supports students.
During the debate:
• All colleges and universities should be tuition-free
• Every student, including those from wealthy families, would be able to go to college without paying tuition under his administration
• Believes the country doesn’t need a complicated system based on income levels to set college costs
• His plan, similar to Clinton’s, includes a funding partnership between federal and state governments, and restated his plan to fund free public college tuition by taxing financial transactions. That’s why he reference that he wants Wall Street to pay for students’ tuition – twice.
• His proposal would expand the federal work-study program, however, would not impose Clinton’s ten-hour work requirement
• Also supports free, in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants
• “If we want free tuition at public colleges and universities, millions of young people are going to have to demand it, and give the Republicans an offer they can’t refuse.”
Notable Quote:
“This is the year 2015. A college degree today…is the equivalent of what a high school degree was 50 years ago.

And what we said 50 years ago and a hundred years ago is that every kid in this country should be able to get a high school education regardless of the income of their family. I think we have to say that is true for everybody going to college.”

Governor Martin O’Malley

Who is he?
Former governor of Maryland (from 2007 to 2015).
Stance on higher education:
O’Malley has released a policy paper with some big ideas, but it lacks a lot of details. This plan includes “calling on” states to freeze public tuition rates, a goal of tying rates to median incomes and to increase college funding.
He plans to increase federal spending, would expand Pell grants and the federal work-study program. His plan would provide additional aid for colleges who improve their performance. He would also increase access to high school dual-enrollment programs and college counseling. O’Malley’s plan also details that it would crack down on abuse by for-profit colleges even more so than President Obama and would restrict President Obama’s "gainful employment" rule, which evaluates occupational schools by their graduates’ debt-to-income ratios. According to O’Malley, it would take five years to see his plan through, however he has not release any details regarding how he would plan to finance his policies. He has also noted that debt-free college is the ultimate goal, but that the details within his policy are the first steps. He does, however, have a positive history of higher education support as governor.
During the debate:
• Vaguely stated he supports for higher education reform
• Plugged his state’s four-year tuition freeze at public colleges while he was governor
• Took, what many believe to be, the strongest stance in favor of undocumented students gaining in-state tuition
Notable Quote:
“The more our children learn, the more they will earn, and that's true of children who have yet to be naturalized but will become American citizens."

Gov. Lincoln Chafee

Who is he?
Former Rhode Island Governor who also spent 8 years as a left-leaning Republican U.S. Senator from Rhode Island. He also served one term as the state’s independent governor before switching to the Democratic Party.
This candidate did not discuss higher education, student debt or college costs. He announced that he's withdrawing his Democratic Presidential bid.

Sen. Jim Webb

Who is he?
Best known as a former Virginia senator, Jim Webb has somewhat of a random past. He was also secretary of the Navy and assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan. He’s also the author of 10 books, film writer Rules of Engagement (2000), and won an Emmy for a PBS “NewsHour” report, which he filmed in 1983, Beirut.
This candidate did not discuss higher education, student debt or college costs. He announced that he's withdrawing his Democratic Presidential bid.

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