WASHINGTON, September 27, 2016 — Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump recognize that student debt is an issue but what exactly do they plan to do about it?
Clinton and “The Plan”
The page on Clinton’s website dedicated to higher education claims that “Hillary will make debt-free college available to everyone and take on student loan debt.”
Clinton wants to make college completely free for students from low-income households, and release former students from outstanding debt to their colleges.
According to Clinton’s website, she will fund this plan by reducing tax deductions for the wealthy. It’s worth noting that reducing the sums that billionaires can write off of their yearly taxes is distinct from actually raising their tax rates.
Clinton’s plan is roughly similar to that of her biggest competition for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders.
A Shakier Stance
Donald Trump, for his part, has not discussed student debt much in his campaign for the presidency. As a matter of fact, he has only discussed it when asked about it directly over the course of general Q&As covering broad topics.
Trump’s campaign does not have a concrete plan to deal with the country’s gowing problem of student debt. According to Trump policy advisor Sam Clovis, who spoke about the issue to Inside Higher Ed, Trump wants to remove the government as a player in the process of lending people money to go to school. He wants to replace government loans entirely with loans from private banks.
Trump wants to encourage colleges to consider their own risk of debt when admitting students. How exactly this would be implemented is unclear. The idea, it seems, would be to discourage colleges from taking students who are less likely to be able to pay for their education. This, in turn, sounds like it would be yet another barrier in between poor students and an education.
Since these days “poor” and “student” are practically redundant, this doesn’t look good for our country’s future as a well-educated nation. This method would also encourage colleges to admit students likely to earn more after graduation, based on field of study.
Trump vs. Trump
Trump’s latest stance is completely different from a statement he made in only 2015, when he said of low- and middle-income citizens affording tuition and supplies, “Well the only way you can do it is you have to start some governmental program.”
Trump’s earlier stance was a more compassionate one. He said of undergraduates, “They go, and they work, and they take loans, and they’re borrowed up, and they can’t breathe, and they get through college and the worst thing is, they go through that whole process and they don’t have any job.”
For contrast, Clovis’ March 2016 statement to Inside Higher Ed included a callous dismissal of people pursuing degrees less likely to be lucrative. He said, “If you are going to study 16th-century French art, more power to you. I support the arts. But you are not going to get a job.”
It’s unclear what exactly the Trump campaign advisor is suggesting here. Perhaps it is that the privilege of studying for the sake of knowledge itself should be limited to trust-fund kids who never need to worry about things like car insurance costs and can pay an exorbitant amount for an education without ever needing to be employed.
An Unclear Position
Clovis, of course, speaks for Trump but may not accurately represent the opinions of his employer. It wouldn’t be surprising, since Trump has neglected to incorporate a solid plan of action regarding student debt and loans into his campaign in 2016.
Trump has been known to double back on issues he has taken strong stances on, including the infamous “birther” debate. Trump recently redacted his stance that President Obama is lying about being a U.S. citizen after maintaining that he was not throughout much of president’s time in office. His final word on education may be far from final.