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Politicians Suggest Ways to Reduce Tuition

Republican candidates at the second presidential debate this year were placed in front of Air Force One, the one President Ronald Reagan used when he was in office. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson - RTS1HPM
Republican candidates at the second presidential debate this year were placed in front of Air Force One, the one President Ronald Reagan used when he was in office. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson - RTS1HPM
Politicians Offer Plans to Reduce High Tuition Costs
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U.S. presidential candidates are talking about the problem of high costs in higher education.

From 2002 until 2012, tuition increased by around 39 percent, on average, among public or government-funded universities. Among private universities, it rose around 16 percent on average.

The presidential candidates agree that the cost of education is a problem, but they disagree about what to do about it.

What do the Democrats propose?

The two main Democratic contenders are Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. They both have plans for addressing the high cost of education.

Hillary Clinton's plan is called the New College Compact.

The plan calls for giving grants to states. Grants are money given to states from the federal government. They help boost other financial aid to students, and help pay for living costs and tuition.

Under Clinton's plan, community colleges would be tuition-free.

She also proposes reducing interest rates on student loans, giving support to private colleges, and basing loan repayment on a graduate’s income.

Clinton says her plan will be paid for by limiting tax spending on wealthy taxpayers. She estimates the cost of the plan would be around $350 billion over 10 years.

Bernie Sanders offers a plan with six steps. The first step is to make tuition free at public colleges and universities. The second step is to stop the federal government from profiting on the interest on student loans.

Other steps include reducing interest rates students pay to borrow money and allowing students to refinance student loans. Sanders also favors need-based financial aid and work study programs.

Sanders proposes paying for this plan by making 'Wall Street speculators' pay a tax. Sanders estimates the cost of the program to be around $75 billion a year.

"We have a crisis in higher education today. Too many of our young people cannot afford a college education, and many of those who are leaving school are faced with crushing debt."

What do the Republican candidates propose?

There are three front-runners in the Republican Party: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump.

Rubio is the only one who has officially shown a plan for dealing with high costs.

Rubio says he does not think tax money should support the current higher education system. He also says that universities raise fees too often, and too quickly.

"The higher ed cartel pushes skyrocketing tuition and degrees that don't lead to jobs. Yesterday's leaders want to raise taxes and dump more money into this broken system."

Rubio's plan proposes that students apply for “Student Investment Plans.” These plans would link students to private investors. In return for funding from investors, students would pay back part of their income to those investors for a set number of years.

Unlike loans, students would not have to pay back the full amount that they borrow from private investors. However, they would still have to pay a percentage of their income for the amount of time that they agreed to.

Repayment based on income after graduation would become standard for student loans, says Rubio's website.

Rubio says higher education in the U.S. needs to fit the economy. He recommends increasing access to career and vocational education, encouraging apprenticeships and on-the-job training, and easing access to community and state colleges.

Rubio also says he wants to make statistics -- such as graduation rates, average student debt, and the likelihood of employment after graduating -- available to students and families.

What about the candidates who don't have official plans?

Neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz has officially released plans for dealing with high costs in education. However, both men have spoken about dealing with high costs.

In an interview with the Hill, Donald Trump criticized the federal government for making a profit on student loans. He suggests that the government should not make money from student loans. In his words:

“That’s probably one of the only things the government shouldn’t make money off — I think it’s terrible that one of the only profit centers we have is student loans.”

In 2012, Ted Cruz suggested that financial aid be given by states, not the federal government. In Cruz's words:

“We should take the funding, give it to the states and put the states in the position to make the decisions how to have the greatest impact in their communities.”

Which plans would have the greatest success?

Some experts, such as N. Gregory Mankiw, a professor at Harvard, do not think that the plans of the presidential candidates will work well.

The problem with Sanders' plan, writes Mankiw, is that it doesn't make college free. It forces taxpayers to pay for the college education of others.

Mankiw says that the government faces long-term budget problems. It must pay for Social Security and other government programs. He says it is not a good idea to add another new, costly government program.

Mankiw suggests that Rubio's plan suffers from a different problem: it is not clear that private investors would support students. Even if investors support students, they may only choose to support certain types of students.

Beth Akers, an expert at the Brookings Institute, criticized Clinton's plan. Akers suggested that Clinton's plan wastes money.

Clinton's plan calls for allowing students to refinance their loans. However, the households with the largest loan debts also tend to be wealthy households. This means, writes Akers, that Clinton's plan is helping wealthy families more than poor families. In other words, Clinton's plan does not give relief to the borrowers who need it the most.

Akers also says that the $350 billion dollar cost of the program is probably low. She thinks Clinton's program would cost much more than that.

The debate over what to do about the problem of expensive higher education is likely to continue for some time.

I'm John Russell.

And I'm Jill Robbins

John Russell reported on this story for VOA Learning English. Kathleen Struck and Jill Robbins were the editors.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.


Words in This Story

tuition – n. money that is paid to a school for the right to study there

degree n. an official document and title that is given to someone who has successfully completed a series of classes at a college or university

address v. to deal with (a matter, issue, problem, etc.)

refinance v. to get a new loan to pay (an older debt)

favorv. to approve of or support (something)

speculator n. a person who invests money in ways that could produce a large profit but that also involve a lot of risk

front-runnern. the person or thing that is most likely to win a race or competition

income n. money that is earned from work

vocational adj. relating to the special skills or training that you need for a particular job or occupation

apprenticeships n. a position as an apprentice (an apprentice is a person who learns a job or skill by working for a fixed period of time for someone who is very good at that job or skill)

on-the-job training n. learned or done while working at a job