It is no surprise that the higher education system is a major talking point regarding the upcoming American election. However, the candidates greatly differ on how they plan to change the industry, and there is much debate about the best way to solve the problem.
Should higher education be more nationalized, or should higher education be like Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Krauthammer was quoted saying, “I think there are things that ought to be organic and independent and higher education is one of them.” Changes will be made, but which changes will be determined by the party that wins the election in 2016. These are the top 5 ways in which colleges and universities could be affected in the future.
Changes to Student Loans
All contenders from both parties agree that the higher education loans program must be fixed. If the student loans program is not solved in the next few years, another major financial crisis could result. More than 40 million young Americans have college loans that amount to about $1.2 trillion, which is more than the outstanding credit card and auto loans owed by U.S. households.
President of Washington College, Sheila Bair, believes the increased need for a college degree coupled with declining real wages is causing this debt crisis. Incomes are dropping for low-wage workers, and middle-class workers are only seeing small increases. However, employers are demanding a degree. Bair says this has forced families to take out more student loans. Bair explains, “What you end up having is more and more young people applying for college with fewer families able to pay for it.”
The Democratic candidates are focused on more government spending to cut interest rates or refinance debts with a possibility of loan forgiveness. Some Republican candidates, including Marco Rubio, believe that giving the private financial institutions a larger role can offer some relief to the federal government thereby reducing government intervention on this issue.
Colleges and universities could also be affected in the likelihood that more regulations will be put into place to hold them accountable. Democrat contender, Martin O’Malley, wants a 25% increase in college completion rates within ten years by having reduced and fixed tuition in public colleges and universities and providing more benefits to low and middle-income families. Senator Rubio wants to hold colleges and universities accountable by requiring them to show their key statistics, like graduation rates, to better inform upcoming students.
If the 2016 Presidential election results in a Democrat taking office, public colleges and universities might begin to offer free tuition. Hillary Clinton is pushing for free community colleges and for students to go to public universities without incurring student debts. Her solution is to increase state spending to bring about more investment from the federal government which will bring down tuition costs.
Bernie Sanders wants free tuition in all public colleges and universities. He plans to set aside a certain amount of federal money each year to pay for this as well as raise a tax, called speculation fees, which means that Wall Street will have a huge role in paying for these tuition fees.
Economist, actor, professional speaker, Ben Stein, has greatly opposed this idea because he feels that providing a free education to poor people will not solve the problem because most people are poor by choice, and “no plan is going to help them.” While he believes that providing free tuition for the hard-working, disciplined poor student is a great idea, he is skeptical that many poor students lack the discipline and willingness to be successful.
Several Republican nominees want to help future students have a wide range of choices of where they want to attend college. Republican contender Jeb Bush wants incentives put in place that will promote individualization and wider choices for students. He is also an ardent supporter of for-profit colleges.
Carly Fiorina said that before nationalizing the student loan industry, selection of which college to attend was a competitive industry where students had choices. She compared the industry to the technology industry, “the most competitive in the world”, where better and cheaper devices became more and more accessible.
Downsizing the Department of Education
An idea that has been presented in the Republican agenda for many years is the opinion that the Department of Education should either be taken away or cut tremendously. Former Presidential nominee and Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, stated that the Department of Education needs to dramatically shrink and to get rid of most of its regulations.
Donald Trump said the Department should be cut “way, way, way down”. Host of the CNBC’s “Kudlow Report”, Larry Kudlow, agrees with Donald Trump’s tax plan and making major cuts to the Department of Education to not add to the already major government deficit.
Carly Fiorina said that the Department of Education has a monopoly because it controls universities by not giving student aid to schools who do not meet the standards that the Department of Education has created. This could affect how Pell grants are administered, how national education data is gathered, and how much the states are held accountable on the inequality between low-income and wealthy districts.