What’s Left: Affordable Education

With all the buffoonery going on this election cycle, it is easy to get lost in the nonsense.  However, when it comes to the presidential candidates’ feelings on higher education issues, we must not lose sight of what is really at stake this November.  Hillary Clinton’s higher education priorities will significantly help both college students and the general public as a whole, while critics of Donald Trump’s higher education proposals call them horrible, third rate, overrated and rigged.  

While Donald Trump has been practically silent on higher education issues, Hillary has repeatedly discussed these concerns and has formulated concrete policy proposals to address serious problems. Among her many proposals, Clinton supports various solutions to help borrowers refinance and consolidate loans, supports creating a $25 billion fund for historically black colleges and universities and plans to immediately place a three-month moratorium on federal loan payments while students find jobs and organize personal finances after graduation. 

Most notably, Clinton’s hallmark (and most controversial) proposal is ensuring that, by 2021, families with incomes up to $125,000 will pay no tuition at in-state four-year public colleges and universities. Right now, there is, somewhere, a conservative raising his hand at the back of a hypothetical classroom, asking, “But wait, won’t Clinton’s proposal cost a lot of money?” Yes, it will. The Democratic Party should not deceive anyone about this. However, if higher education is to be viewed as a necessary public good, rather than simply a private luxury, Clinton’s plan becomes a lot more palatable.

Public colleges and universities used to be free, or almost free, in many states. Policy makers and the public used to view education as something that society benefitted from, so it was funded copiously. Somewhere along the line, we lost this shared value. Everyone benefits, in both work and leisure, from working with intelligent, highly-skilled people who are prepared to assume productive roles in society. 

On the other hand, Donald Trump’s proposals have yet to be defined. However, through comments made by Trump campaign officials, we have inklings of what his policies might look like. We already know that Trump will not endorse Hillary Clinton’s debt-free college proposals. His campaign has indicated that he will likely support a number of initiatives that will only hurt students and leave many concerns unaddressed. 

First, Trump wants to do away with federal student loans. Great, right? No. Federal student loans have significantly lower rates than private loans, and private loans are not subject to the same protections and guarantees of their federal counterparts.  Trump could be doing this as a favor for Wall Street, but he is more likely pandering to social conservatives, whose

widely-known distaste for federal student loans derives from less-than-savory priorities.  

Conservative colleges do not like this because it makes them do things they do not want to do, like comply with Affirmative Action and Title IX. This is why many conservative schools do not accept federal student aid in any form. In essence, Donald Trump wants to end federal student loans to the detriment of our personal finances and our civil rights.

Trump is likely to propose requiring colleges to (somehow) share in the risks associated with student loans, and he wants to dissuade intended liberal arts majors from borrowing money for college. Neither of these proposals will address fundamental problems.

So, when you are scrolling through the political nonsense on your Facebook feed this week, ignore the distractions and remember why you need to vote with your conscience this November. Clinton cares about higher education and will pursue policies that help students and families. The Trump campaign, on the other hand, just does not get it.