Why Are Republicans Ignoring Tuition Costs

By Matthew Wrobel, Policy Analyst

As the number of American citizens suffering from student loan debt continues to increase at alarming rates, the issue of cost of education and loan repayment programs have come into the spotlight in the upcoming 2016 Presidential Election. While Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley have all released plans to address education funding and student loan debt, the vast majority of the crowded Republican primary field has failed to even mention their plans to tackle one of the fastest growing issues faced by the American public. With 1 in every 7 American citizens still being burdened by student loan debt, which on average accumulates to almost $40,000 per person, one can only wonder when GOP candidates will look to concentrate on one of the biggest cripplers to Americans’ financial well-being.  

 As each member of the Democratic primary has pointed out, both the cost of college and current loan repayment programs in tact have hindered the American people from continuing their education, preventing them to gain the tools and experience necessary to attain a well-paying, sustaining job. In a recent Forbes study, it was found that 75% percent of college seniors did not choose to attend their first college of choice. Of that group, 67% of them said that cost was the number one reason for them choosing to not attend, with 25% of that group saying that there was no financial assistance offered at all. In America’s continually growing competitive job market, it is almost unconstitutional for such costs to prevent a person of lower income from receiving the same education as one with a higher income. This, too, proves to be one of the countless unfair treatments caused by income inequality.

 While each of the Democratic candidates have laid out their plan– all hoping to attain the same goal, each candidate goes about it in subtly different ways. Hillary Clinton’s plan, “New College Compact” calls for:

• Making community college tuition-free.

• Giving states $175 billion in grants to lower the cost of education. (In return, states would have to take steps to increase what they contribute to state education.)

• Incentivizing states to increase oversight of public universities and take action to curb the growth of tuition costs (though they would not have to cap tuition).

In addition, Clinton’s plan would do three things to make student loans more affordable:

• Allow current student loans to be refinanced at current interest rates, an idea pioneered in the Senate by Elizabeth Warren.

• End the profits that the federal government makes from student loans.

• Create an income-based repayment program that would adjust debt payments based on post-graduation earnings and ensure that graduates never pay more than 10% of their income toward loans.

Bernie Sander’s plan, though similar to Clinton’s, “College For All Act” would go further than Clinton and eliminate tuition and fees at public colleges and universities. Under his plan, the federal government would provide states with two-thirds of the cost of public college tuition and fees, and states would pick up the rest.

Like Clinton, Sanders would:

• Allow current student debt holders to refinance.

• Lower the borrowing rate for all students.

• Incentivize states to control costs at public universities.

Sanders would also try to get colleges to rely less on “low-paid” adjunct faculty and ensure students more time with tenured professors. In addition Sanders would expand work-study programs, and under his plan, students would not have to reapply every year for financial aid.

O’Malley’s plan falls between Clinton’s and Sanders’. Like Clinton, he would focus on ending student debt rather than eliminating tuition, but he would go further by capping tuition at state schools.

O’Malley also proposes to:

• Create an income-based repayment plan similar to Clinton’s.

• Allow students to refinance debt, similar to the Sanders and Clinton plans.

• Increase federal funding for higher education, with states matching federal dollars, similar to the Sanders and Clinton plans.

• Expand work-study programs, similar to Sanders’ plan.

The main distinguishing elements of O’Malley’s plan:

• Freeze tuition rates for public colleges and universities.

• Cap long-term rates based on the median household income in each state: 10% for four-year schools and 5% for two-year schools.

• Create incentives to provide affordable child care on campuses.

• Encourage schools to make sure students graduate on time.

• Expand access to early college credit in high schools.

Unlike Clinton and Sanders, O’Malley would not make community college tuition free. O’Malley’s plan would also crack down on for-profit colleges, a position both Clinton and Sanders have supported.

 When searching for the GOP candidates’ plans for cost of education and loan repayment programs, the only plan one is able to come across is the newly published education plan from Jeb Bush, and the barely publicized “Investing in Student Success Act” by Marco Rubio, which was released in late October. While both plans invoke ideas of income-based loan repayment programs and allude to the incentivizing states to expand access, both fail to lay out concrete plans to lower tuition itself at public universities. Bush’s plan, which was introduced on MLK Day, is laid out in the lens of a civil rights issue. He hopes to expand access to K-12 education and double the federal support of charter schools throughout the nation. Rubio’s plan, however, seems to fall flat after the income-based loan repayment system. He calls for a student investment program, which would create in which companies would subsidize the cost of student loans, in exchange for a percentage of their income upon graduation—a system that seems to do more harm than good. He also calls for the publishing of data in which students would have a more clear understanding of how much of an income they can expect with the specific degree from their college or university.

 While one must applaud Bush and Rubio for being the only two candidates in a field that once boasted 17 runners to even address the issue, it is not hard to see the biggest flaws in their plans; both are assuming that one is already able to afford the cost of admission. In a field that is constantly debating with best flat tax plan (none of which mathematically will improve the economy by any means, but that’s another conversation), all in hopes of improving an economy that is “broken”, Republicans in general have failed to address the biggest issue in America’s inability to get well-paying jobs that can stimulate the economy, due to the continually rising cost of education. One can only wonder if and when the remaining Republican candidates will take a stand on one of the most staggering economic issues in our nation’s youth.

Matthew Wrobel is a Policy Analyst with the Center for Development and Strategy and a double major in Political Science and History at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y.