Does the 2016 election provide hope for college students?

By Brooke Bailey

Abortion. Immigration. Economy. Minimum Wage. Religious Freedom. These were some of the only topics that were discussed during both of the major Republican debates held in the past month. What about college affordability? Our country has a significant problem with students who are spending thousands of dollars on college, yet are not being guaranteed jobs.

Though partisanship influences how this problem, we should all at least agree that this is a problem, and that it shouldn’t be ignored during two of the most watched debates in American history. One would assume that candidates from both parties would be discussing higher education, since the millennial voter bloc continues to grow.
What are the candidates saying about college? Some Democratic candidates have made the student debt crisis and college affordability one of the main topics in their campaigns. Front-runner Hillary Clinton has proposed plans for tuition-free community college, and help with tuition, fees and books for four-year public universities. Another of the Democratic candidates, Bernie Sanders, has radically proposed a plan for a free college education to everyone in this country. Candidate Martin O’Malley proposed that states need to immediately freeze their tuition rates for public universities, while candidate Jim Webb said in his campaign announcement, “…student loan debt is hanging over the heads of so many of our talented young people who must mortgage their futures in order to have one.”

Republican candidates, on the other hand, have been a bit quieter when it comes to this issue. Some candidates, like Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee, believe that the the solution to this problem is to reform the colleges themselves. Bush argues that students are in school for too long, and that is what hikes up college debt. He said if we focused on getting our students to graduate in four years, there would be less debt overall. Mike Huckabee feels that colleges need to focus more on substantial job training and fully preparing students to get a job after college.

Other Republican candidates, like Ben Carson and Chris Christie, have criticized every Democrat’s plan that mentions “free college.” Ben Carson has argued that nothing is actually free; someone will be paying for it. He also feels that the solution to the debt crisis is quite simple. “For those who are not needy, there is an old-fashioned remedy that is very effective called work,” Carson said, in his Op-Ed for “The Washington Times. Chris Christie has supported the current higher education system, saying in his Iowa State University speech this June, “There are always costs involved, and if college graduates are going to reap the greater economic rewards and opportunities of earning a degree, then it seems fair for them to support the cost of the education they’re receiving. Earning a degree should actually involve earning it.”

The debate on college affordability between Democrats and Republicans comes down to a stark difference in ideology. Do we put more money into government programs to help students afford college? Or do we blame the government for profiting off college loans and reform the colleges themselves? Both sides give little hope to college students. Our options are voting for Democratic candidates whose helpful plans are not likely to get passed in a Republican controlled Congress, or vote for Republican candidates who don’t see college affordability as a top priority. Something needs to be done. Maybe it doesn’t need to be as complicated as promising ideals like free college for all, but it can’t be as simple as suggesting that college students should work more. Sorry, Ben Carson, but according to the US Census Report, 71 percent of undergraduate college students are working (at least 10-15 hours per week) while in school.

We are told everyday that college is the gateway into adulthood and success, and the pressure is absolutely terrifying. This problem is plaguing our generation and candidates need to stop either pretending that this issue doesn’t exist, or coming up with aimless ideas that are unlikely to pass just to receive our votes.

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