Where do candidates stand on student issues?
Steve Evansen | The Clarion
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When Minnesota holds its caucuses on March 1, many Bethel students will be presented with their first opportunity to vote in a presidential election. These first-time voters will face a litany of choices, some of whom offer vastly different visions for the role of government in society. As students consider whether to participate and, if so, who to support, one issue worth considering is higher education reform.
One of the primary impediments for students hoping to join the workforce and start a family after graduation is the crushing burden imposed by student loan debt. Statistics from the Institute for College Access and Success reveal the immensity of this challenge. Total debt now exceeds $1.2 trillion, averaging near $35,000 per graduate. This challenge is unique to our generation. Primarily due to the rising costs of tuition, accounting for inflation, the average debt faced by today’s graduates is twice what graduates faced 10 years ago.
In light of these foreboding statistics, potential voters should consider which candidate appears to grasp the changing dynamics of our economy and the need to reform higher education. The loudest voice on this topic, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, has called for free tuition at public colleges and universities. Despite noble motives, Sanders’ plan is fiscally impractical. The left-leaning Tax Policy Center found that Sanders plan would add hundreds of billions of dollars in debt to a nation already facing $19 trillion in unpaid bills.
Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is offering a modified version of Sanders’ extravagant proposals. Secretary Clinton has proposed $300 billion in tax increases in order to depress rising tuition costs. Unfortunately, this well-intentioned model has repeatedly failed. Throughout the past several decades, the federal government has invested enormously in postsecondary education funding.
Predictably, as government funding increases, institutions raise their tuition rates, leading to a never-ending race towards maximal inefficiency. Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton’s models would siphon resources away from the free market in order to dump them into an outdated, broken model.
Meanwhile, most candidates proposing free market approaches to our nation’s vexing problems have been relatively silent on this issue. The one exception is Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Senator Rubio has proposed a number of common-sense, fiscally responsible solutions. The Senator advocates universal income-based repayment (IBR), a simple model allowing students to pay back loans at a rate directly proportional to their income. The senator’s “Investing in Student Success Act of 2015,” a bill he has repeatedly introduced before the U.S. Senate, contains aspects of this model.
Senator Rubio’s policy proposals empower the consumer by employing a higher degree of transparency and information between the government, institutions of higher education, and students and their families. He has suggested making higher education information, including graduation rates, student debt information, post-graduation earnings and likely employment outcomes, available online in an easily-accessible format.
Rubio has also demonstrated leadership in reforming an outdated accreditation system. Citing the growth in innovative learning opportunities, he wants to establish a new accrediting entity to ensure quality courses with credits transferrable into the existing system.
Rubio’s sustained articulation of the problems posed by student debt reveal his priorities. The issue is personal for Rubio. Just a few years ago, he finished paying off more than $100,000 in debt accrued from law school.
As Minnesota’s millennials consider voting at the March 1 caucuses, student debt and higher education will figure prominently in their decisions. I ask my peers to consider which candidate is committed to common-sense, sustainable, fiscally responsible solutions.