Campaign Trail: Early Presidential Candidates on Student Debt

Billy McGrath on 15 February 2019

We are still more than 20 months from the 2020 Presidential Election, but campaigns are already underway for the Democratic Party nomination. As the student loan debt balance rises above $1.6 trillion, expect tuition costs to be a hot topic on the stump. 

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris

Senator Kamala Harris announced her bid for the Democratic nomination in late January and began the campaign with a Q&A session at her alma mater, Howard University. When asked about the inflated cost of college education, Harris said that the government needs “to have a commitment around what we need to do around debt-free college and ‘College for All.’”

She also discussed the possibility of federal student loan refinancing and highlighted her track record policing predatory practices at for-profit colleges during her term as California attorney general.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited Iowa -- the site of the first primary caucus -- for her initial campaign appearance. She too mentioned rising cost of college as an issue she aimed to tackle. She committed herself to making access to higher education a right for all.

Senator Gillibrand previously introduced a bill to Congress, the Federal Student Loan Refinancing Act, to begin offering refinancing through the federal government at a 4% fixed interest rate. The bill never made it out of the House, and student loans can still only be refinanced through private lenders.

What next

The student debt crisis is not going away anytime soon, so this issue should be recurring in campaign speeches and debates. Keep an eye out for the rhetoric surrounding college costs as more candidates throw their hat in the ring in the coming months.

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