The race for President is heating up as we near the Democratic and Republican primaries. Student loan debt is increasingly becoming one of the biggest policy topics at all levels of our society’s political discourse. But where do the presidential candidates stand? Do they support the rights of student loan borrowers? Are they interested in reforming the student loan system? Are they proposing specific changes to student loan laws to ease the burden of student debt?
I’ve been doing some research to see what I can find on the presidential candidates’ public positions on student loans. Last week, I took a look at the Democratic Party candidates. Today, we’re reviewing the Republican field.
Jeb Bush: Jeb Bush says nothing on his official website about student loans (actually, he seems to have no firmly stated policy positions at all that I could easily find). I could not find any publicly declared policy positions on student loans. Bush has stated previously that he does support “accountability” for universities, and has accused universities of using federal aid to subsidize campus capital improvements. Bush seems open to new models of higher education (i.e., online), but he has said little about the burdens of student loan debt or reducing the costs of higher education.
Ben Carson: Ben Carson has policy positions on his website, but there’s no mention of student debt. Carson has publicly rebuked President Obama’s proposal for free community college, and he has been quoted as saying that students should simply work in order to pay for higher education (and, presumably, if they can’t earn enough to pay for their education, they shouldn’t go to school). He has offered no plan to address the student debt crisis.
Donald Trump: Donald Trump has no policy positions on his website, and nothing on student loans. Trump has acknowledged the absurd levels of student loan debt in America, and he has publicly criticized the federal government for profiting off of student borrowers – a position that actually doesn’t put him too far off from Senator Elizabeth Warren. But he has not proposed any detailed plan for addressing student debt or the costs of higher education.
Scott Walker: Scott Walker has no policy positions on his website, and nothing on student loans (I’m beginning to sound like a broken record). He has not put forth any specific policy proposals regarding addressing student loan debt or higher education costs. However, as Governor of Wisconsin, Walker proposed cutting $300 million of state funding from higher education, and he tried to alter the university’s system emphasis on public service. Walker also failed to support any Wisconsin student loan refinancing bills.
Chris Christie: Chris Christie has higher education policy positions on his website (finally!), and some of them are actually pretty intriguing. Christie proposes “refocusing” federal student assistance for the neediest of students, and creating “alternative funding” mechanisms such as “income-share agreements,” whereby students agree to pay some percentage of future income for a finite period of time in exchange for private financing (this essentially sounds like an income-based private student loan repayment program). For current borrowers, he proposes additional tax credits and community service options to help borrowers repay their student loans (it’s unclear what that would translate to in terms of numbers). Interesting stuff, to be sure, although Christie has also come out firmly against free college education, and his positions on loan repayment, loan forgiveness, and loan refinancing are all unclear.
Ted Cruz: Ted Cruz has no policy positions on his website, and nothing on student loans. He has said little publicly about student debt, although he has acknowledged that he took out student loans himself to finance his own education. As Senator, Cruz voted in favor of capping federal student loan interest rates, but he also voted against Senator Elizabeth Warren’s student loan refinancing bill. Ultimately, Cruz’s positions on higher education and student debt are a bit of a mystery.
Carly Fiorina: Carly Fiorina has no policy positions on her website, and nothing on student loans. She has no publicly-stated policy positions on higher education or student debt. Fiorina has never held elected office, so she has no voting record to review. So there’s not much that can be said about her position on the student debt crisis.
Jim Gilmore: Jim Gilmore has not said much of anything about higher education or student debt, other than suggesting that people need to be “more prosperous so they are not at the mercy of a loan program.” I suppose we could all get on board with that concept, but specifics would also be nice, no?
Mike Huckabee: Mike Huckabee has many policy positions on his website, and he does acknowledge student debt, saying that “for too many [Americans], college is where students discover mountains of debt, but not a lifelong career.” In the past, Huckabee supported President Obama’s proposal to cap interest rates, and has proposed using federal subsidies to support college graduates working in national service. He has not proposed any detailed plans for tackling the costs of higher education or providing relief to student loan borrowers.
Bobby Jindal: Bobby Jindal describes his policy positions on his website, but does not mention higher education or student loans. While governor of Louisiana, Jindal cut one-third of the state’s higher education funding budget, totaling approximately $300 million (much like Scott Walker). Jindal has also defended the for-profit college industry, which has come under heavy scrutiny recently by the federal government, state governments, and nonprofit consumer advocacy organizations. He has not publicly mentioned his support (or lack thereof) of student loan borrower relief programs.
John Kasich: John Kasich has no policy positions on his website. While governor of Ohio, however, he actually increased funding for higher education (in contrast to Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker), and proposed that public Ohio colleges and universities cap tuition increases. Kasich also proposed a $120 million college debt relief fund to help students repay their loans if they took in-demand in-state jobs. His actions as governor have not yet translated to positions on the national student loan debt crisis, but he stands out among his rivals as someone who has taken significant action on student loans and higher education costs in his own state.
George Pataki: George Pataki has no policy positions on his website. Pataki has publicly acknowledged that college is too expensive, and has stated that the government should not be profiting off of students (perhaps hinting at support for a refinancing program). But other than that, Pataki has not said much.
Rand Paul: Rand Paul has policy positions on his website, but nothing on student loans specifically. Paul does want to substantially reduce the federal bureaucracy and has called for the elimination of the U.S. Dept. of Education, but the impact that such actions would have on student borrowers is unknown. Paul has called for all tuition and student loan debt to be tax deductible, which might be of some benefit to student borrowers, but as Senator he also voted against all of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s bills to cap interest rates and allow borrowers to refinance.
Marco Rubio: Marco Rubio is the only Republican presidential candidate to have an entire issue area on his website dedicated to student loans. Rubio emphasizes college cost transparency; referencing his own history as a student loan borrower with over $100,000.00 in student loan debt, Rubio states that students should be better informed about college costs and student loans before enrolling in an institution. As Senator, Rubio supported a bill that would enroll all federal student loan borrowers into a 10% income-driven repayment program, where payments would be made via automatic direct payroll deduction, regardless of income (aside from a modest poverty exemption). Up to $57,500 would be forgiven after 20 years of repayment, and any remaining balance would be forgiven after 10 additional years (30 years total). An interesting modification of existing income-driven repayment plans, to be sure.
Stay tuned – soon I’ll be providing a “Top Picks” for presidential candidates and their positions on student loan debt.