Where Do 2016 Presidential Candidates Stand on Higher Education?

Election 2016
Posted By Eliana Osborn on August 26, 2015 at 10:17 am
Where Do 2016 Presidential Candidates Stand on Higher Education?

We’re a long way out from an actual election, but there’s already a crowd of candidates interested in the presidency – 17 and counting for the GOP alone, in fact. And while higher education and student debt are major issues facing the nation today, primary and high school education gets most of the focus in policy debates.  What do some of the contenders have to say about issues concerning college students and the future of higher education?

Marco Rubio

Rubio, a Republican Senator from Florida, has so far focused on broadening what higher education looks like: more vocational training, community college, and online and traditional classes. “We have only one way of providing higher education in America, and that is, we tell everybody, ‘You either go to a traditional college or you go nowhere.’ That isn’t working,” Rubio told students at Manchester Community College in New Hampshire. Rubio also supports changes to how colleges are accredited, and wants federal student loans repayment to be income-based for everyone.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, a self-labeled socialist and a Democratic Senator from Vermont,  is one of the most vocal supporters for higher education and student debt reform. He introduced the College for All Act for free tuition at all four year public universities in the United States earlier this year, and he wants to expand the Pell Grant program and make federal student loans a non-profit venture.

Jeb Bush

Former Florida  Governor Jeb Bush wants students to more easily be able to get a bachelor’s degree in four years.  A Republican, he opposes the concept of free college and believes technology is the path to increased access for more students to pursue higher education.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton has spoken internationally about the need for more varied college options, not just research universities, as well as the need for online courses as a supplement – not a substitute – for face-to-face interactions.

In comments about K-12 classrooms and higher education, Clinton has also emphasized the need for creativity – not simply being good at tests. Without going into specifics, she has also spoken about making college more affordable and simplifying the student loan refinancing process.

Ben Carson

Ben Carson, a former neurosurgeon turned Republican presidential candidate, disapproves of ‘free’ community college plans, arguing that there will always a cost—just not to necessarily for the students.  He has emphasized the importance of work and individual accountability as the only real tools to success.

Chris Christie

While opposing free college plans, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie supports increases to federal student loan and grant programs.  He also wants to increase the types of post-secondary education that are available, such as apprenticeships or college credit for community service.

Christie has also pushed for greater transparency about costs from colleges themselves, on everything from textbooks to maintenance.

Martin O’Malley

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley recently unveiled his own five-year plan for debt-free college, which would include lowering state university tuition, expanding income-based repayment programs, and increasing federal Pell Grants, as well as student loan refinancing. O’Malley contrasted his plan with Senator Bernie Sanders’ plan for free college, which he argued would be unfeasible as college costs rise.

As the field of presidential candidates gets narrowed down in the coming months, expect to see candidates get more specific – and more creative – about how higher education will need to be reformed over the next few years.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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