It’s that lovely time of year again. That sweet, “headed back to school” scent is in the air, pumpkin spice everything is coming out two months too soon and all the little candidates for the next President of the United States are beginning to feed the public their foundation-less, bogus student debt relief plans that unabashedly pander to voters’ wants and wishes.
No proposals have been more entertaining than those geared towards quelling the rising student debt crisis. Whether it’s in favor of pumping money in or sucking all the money out, there hasn’t been a single plan that’s a viable option for dealing with the issues of college affordability. It’s probably the only thing the entire field of presidential hopefuls has in common.
The average 2015 grad owes a little over $35,000 in student loans and that number continues to rise every year. So, it’s safe to say that this is a problem worth dealing with, especially if any of these candidates want to lock in the millennial vote. Unfortunately, to this point, they have epically failed.
We have a handful of candidates that have come forward with something that could actually resemble the makings of a plan, as long as they are okay with spending a month editing their piece in the writing center at the library. Then we have everyone else – the candidates who have yet to actually declare their strategy in terms of higher ed reform. All together, at this point I believe we have four leading “plans” for handling college affordability and the financing of our education system as a whole.
1. The “Oprah Winfrey College Giveaway” Approach – Bernie Sanders
Titled, the College for All Act, the keystone to Senator Sanders’ plan is to eliminate undergraduate tuition costs at four-year public colleges and universities. In a United States run by Bernie, $47 billion a year – for ten years – would be given to states to erase the fees that would normally be footed by students in the form of tuition.
The federal government would cover two-thirds of the cost and the states would handle the remaining third. There are several other pillars to this legislation, such as cutting the current student loan interest rate in half, allowing current debt holders to refinance their loans under the new interest rate, reforming the work-study program and simplifying the application process for student aid.
There’s just one problem: How do we pay for this? In Sanders’ mind, this is quite easy – just impose a tax on Wall Street. In true Robin Hood fashion, he would tax the wealthy investment houses and hedge funds to supply money to the public education system. Yeah, that shouldn’t be a point of contention with anyone. For his sake, I hope he’s got some secret backup plan to raise that $470 billion.
2. The “Burn All Your IOU’s” Approach – Martin O’Malley
Governor O’Malley’s plan is simple: debt-free college. Once you sift through all the heart-wrenching rhetoric on his website, you’ll come to an outline for his strategy that won’t disappoint. That is, of course, if you’re looking for a webpage full of pigs grandly flying across the sky.
Like Sanders, the former Maryland governor believes we need to lower the interest rate on student loans and refinance existing debts under said rate. O’Malley states, “If we were able to bail out big banks, we can figure out a way to refinance college loans.” Because that’s the same thing, right?
O’Malley also wants to put a cap on monthly payments for student loans in the amount of 10-percent of their take-home pay (five-percent for two-year institutions). All repayment plans would be income-based unless the student chose to opt out of that on their own.
He claims these plans are common sense. You know what else is common sense? Having a means to fund your plan. Not only has O’Malley not proposed a hypothetical budget for attaining debt-free college, but he also hasn’t once mentioned where the money would come from.
3. The “$80 Bill” Approach – Hillary Clinton
Hillary saw Sanders’ and O’Malley’s bets and raised them a New College Compact. She basically took most pages out of their respective playbooks but added in elements to monitor for-profit schools more closely, penalize colleges that charge unreasonable rates and create incentives for state governments to assist students currently paying off their debts.
The former Secretary of State also one-upped Bernie Sanders by stating that her legislation would cost the government $350 billion over the next ten years, a $120 billion decrease from his proposal. Her plan to cover that price tag is to essentially cap the amount wealthy families are eligible to receive from their tax return.
If it doesn’t sound to you like that money is going to magically add up to exactly $350 billion, that’s because it won’t. Or maybe it will, I guess I’m just not up to speed on how things work in Clinton’s fictional oasis.
4. The “Who Needs College Anyway?” Approach – Scott Walker
This one is by far the simplest. There can’t be a problem if the thing creating it doesn’t exist, right? Well, that’s Scott Walker’s brilliant mentality. Take a look at his track record.
To summarize the Scott Walker Approach: end public schooling, build basketball arenas.
The thing is, I don’t have a solution to this crisis so I should probably just shut up and let the big kids take care of it. But is it too much to ask that just one plan actually acknowledges how economics works? If we’re going to fix the student debt crisis, we need fully developed proposals, not half-baked ideas designed to fire up primary voters without getting anything accomplished.