Crash Course Candidate: Combating the current college debt crisis

Every year, more and more American college graduates find themselves feeling trapped in one of our country’s biggest prisons: student loan debt. According to Forbes Magazine, 44.7 million American college graduates in 2019 accumulated debt totaling $1.56 trillion. In response, the 2020 presidential election candidates on both sides have proposed solutions to the financial epidemic, including canceling all or part of the debt and making college free.

While these solutions would alleviate stress for many current and future graduates, Americans need to remember that the money to execute these programs can’t be pulled out of thin air—we will have to pay taxes to fund this. In addition, clearing graduate students’ debt may not teach them how to be financially responsible if they don’t have to pay, or repay, a dime for college.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has proposed her Ultra-Millionaire Tax on the wealthy as a possible source for the funds to wipe out student debt. However, in an interview with NBC News, economist Jonathan Gruber cited his study of the country’s tax system which found that for every 0.1 percent increase on wealth taxes, the total wealth these citizens reported to the government dropped by 3.5 percent. Instead, the government can offer the wealthier population a tax incentive for donations that set up scholarships for students who have demonstrated the ability and motivation to pursue higher education but lack the money for college.

One of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ proposals is to eradicate all of the student debt. However, this won’t teach financial responsibility if these individuals don’t have to repay their loans. Not holding someone responsible for their debt seems as irresponsible as incurring exorbitant amounts in the first place. A solution to this could be President Donald Trump’s idea of streamlining the existing repayment plans and adjusting payments based on a person’s income, capping them at a certain percentage and forgiving the loan after a specified number of payments.

In terms of a free college education, Sen. Amy Klobuchar wants to make two-year but not four-year colleges free while Sanders wants to make public colleges and universities, community colleges and more free with his College For All Act. Automatically providing tuition-free education for four-year universities would be overwhelmingly expensive, especially without any incentive to complete the bachelor’s degree. Providing two years of community college is a great start, but perhaps, tuition at an affordable public four-year university could be reduced but only after completion of the free two-year degree.

Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden wants those with student debt to have the option to file bankruptcy. But, ironically, he was one of the supporters for the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, according to GQ Magazine. This law made it impossible for one to get rid of their student debt. Coupled with the financial crisis of 2008, that change in the bankruptcy law helped worsen the student loan debt situation.

Pete Buttigieg wants families earning less than $100,000 to attend public colleges without student loans. In this way, each family’s expected family contribution would be considered a more accurate reflection of what people would actually end up paying.

There’s no denying that the student loan crisis has grown worse over the years and will continue to head downhill unless change happens. While education should be made available for everyone, that doesn’t necessarily mean it should be free, which would diminish its value, creating a sense of entitlement.

There are some good ideas on the table to alleviate the existing debt, but perhaps the best ideas can be taken to create sensible and financially responsible programs, and Klobuchar’s and Buttigieg’s policies are the best courses of action because they strive to make education affordable for Americans without stripping away its value.

Donald Trump

  • President Trump wants to eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program for borrowers after July 1. The program states that borrowers’ loans will be forgiven if they work for the government or nonprofit organizations and have made 120 payments for 10 years. Instead of the PSLF, Trump will cap undergraduate students at a 12.5 percent income, regardless of one’s career, and forgive them after 15 years of monthly payments. Graduate students will have the same cap, but their loans will be gone after 30 years.
  • Another proposition he has made is streamlining the four income-driven repayment plans, all of which lower payments, into a single plan. Because each plan currently has different qualifications, Trump hoping to make the process less confusing.
  • Trump also wants to get rid of subsidized student loans for low-income students, where undergraduate students don’t accrue interest while they are still in school. Instead of the government paying interest, he wants the students to pay. He also wants to limit the amount of federal aid that graduate students and parents can borrow.

Pete Buttigieg

  • Pete Buttigieg believes that families earning up to $100,000 as well as middle-income ones with several children should be able to attend public college without student loans.
  • He wants to add $120 billion to the Pell Grant program over 10 years and increase the maximum award by $1,000.
  • Buttigieg also wants to lower interest rates on existing student loans.

Joe Biden

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden wants Americans to have the opportunity to declare bankruptcy for student loans.
  • He wants to make community college free and have the federal government pay 75 percent of the cost while states make up the rest.
  • He also wants to give $70 billion to historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions.

Bernie Sanders

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders wants to completely cancel student debt and put a cap at 1.88 percent for interest rates.
  • Sanders has proposed his College For All Act, which would give $48 billion to public colleges and universities, historically black colleges and universities, community colleges, trade schools and more to make them tuition-free. He also wants to give private, non-profit HCBUs $1.3 billion annually.
  • He also wants to give Pell Grants to low-income students in order to help them pay for non-tuition costs like housing, books and supplies.

Elizabeth Warren

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren has proposed making public two-year and four-year colleges free for all American students, and she also wants to make college more accessible for black and Latino students who come from low-income households.
  • She has also proposed an Ultra-Millionaire Tax that would require an annual 2 percent tax on households earning at least $50 million and a 6 percent tax on those earning at least $1 billion or more.
  • She wants to cancel up to $50,000 for over 95 percent of the 42 million Americans buried in debt, and she also wants to eradicate the debt for over 75 percent of Americans. This won’t be taxed as income.

Amy Klobuchar (WEB EXCLUSIVE)

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar wants to make community college free.
  • She does not think that four-year colleges and universities should be free.
  • She also wants to double the Pell Grants to $12,000 a year and increase them automatically based on inflation.