The Campaign Trail: Plans for Higher Education


A prominent issue during this election cycle, especially among younger voters, has been college education and a way to pay for it. Hotly debated on the Democratic side, reform has been discussed less amongst Republicans more concerned with Common Core and primary education. Most of the 2016 hopefuls have had at least some input.

Bernie Sanders
he outspoken Vermont senator has perhaps been the most vocal about college tuition. Sanders envisions a self-supporting federal program that pledges to “make college debt free.” The plan is laid out on his website as a six-step process. Primary points include eliminating tuition at public institutions, restructuring federal assistance and offering a chance to refinance current loans. Sanders’ website estimates the cost at $75 billion a year but step six of the plan promises to pay for it through a “fraction of a percent” tax on market speculators. The United States would be the largest country to adopt such a program, though many European countries have adopted similar programs.

 Hillary Clinton Clinton’s plan is similar to that of Sanders. Her New College Compact also calls for free tuition but limits the call to community colleges, much like the promise recently made by President Barack Obama. The common practice of a mixed payment from students, parents and the federal government would continue. Costs and commitments would be greatly reduced. It seems that acost control would be imposed on tuition rates. Clinton also calls for the ability to refinance student loans and an expansion of government assistance. Her plan specifically envisions students “contributing their earnings from working 10 hours a week.” According to, the program would cost $350 billion over 10 years and would be financed by income taxes.  

Marco Rubio

rubio_vadon_flickrFor student loans and tuition, Senator Marco Rubio calls for a simplification of the current system, calling it “outdated” and “tangled.” His website specifically criticizes the Democratic plans as forms of new taxation and funding for a system he sees as broken. Rubio calls for the legitimization of technical schools and online colleges as other forms of higher education. Financial aid for students attending these institutions would be more flexible. Rubio has not elaborated on what competency-based education would entail or how much his plan would cost.

John Kasich

Governor_of_Ohio_John_Kasich_at_FITN_in_Nashua,_NH_by_Michael_Vadon_02Arguably the leading establishment Republican after a second-place finish at the New Hampshire primaryGovernor John Kasich has a history of taking an active interest in higher education. In Ohio, Kasich brought tuition under control and awarded colleges based on graduation rates, not enrollment. Kasich believes in earning college credit in high school should be encouraged to reduce the cost of a college education. The expansion of Advanced Placement and dual credit classes would likely fill this role.

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