A closer look at the presidential candidates’ education plans

Nicholas Adkins

Presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have extreme variants in their education reform plans, which could affect every college student.

Clinton’s plan is an aggressive attack on high tuition costs that will likely face extreme opposition in congress. Trump’s plan only slightly varies from President Barack Obama’s current system, but does not do much to address the current problems facing the education system.


According to Clinton’s campaign website, her new plan would provide students, whose families make less than $85,000, with free tuition immediately upon implementation of her plan. That cut-off amount would rise to $125,000 within four years.

Before Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders dropped out of the Democratic race and vocalized his support for Clinton, she began to adopt some of his ideas for education reform that were popular among young voters.

“Bernie Sanders and I will work together to make college tuition free for the middle class and debt-free for all,” Clinton said. “We will also liberate millions of people who already have student debt.”

According to Clinton’s plan, the free tuition guidelines would apply to all in-state colleges and universities. Community colleges everywhere would offer free tuition.

Clinton’s plan also states many benefits will be given to former students with college loan debt and all college loan debt would be forgiven after 20 years.

In order for Clinton’s plan to be put in place, Clinton would need to send it for congressional approval. This process has its difficulties, said Joshua Testa, a graduate student in Kent State’s Department of Political Science.

“This is a difficult challenge in and of itself, seeing that Republicans have a majority in both the House and Senate,” Testa said.

Clinton’s plan outlines that funding for the new higher education system would be paid for by a combination of state and federal government. Federal funding for the plan is said to be fully paid for by “limiting certain tax expenditures for high-income taxpayers.”

The plan will also require cooperation at the state level, and Clinton proposes states that cooperate, will be given grants for their participation. There is no mention in the plan, however, of any penalty for states that do not meet their promise to work at lowering tuition costs and whether they would lose any grant money awarded to them already.

“It remains to be seen whether this grant will be a useful incentive for state governments to carry out her plan,” Testa said. “Oftentimes, state governments will accept grant money because it comes with little to no strings attached to it.”


Trump’s official plan is similar to Obama’s current system. Under Trump’s plan, the highest loan debt payments could reach would be 12.5 percent of one’s income, compared to 10 percent under Obama’s system. Trump claims payments will be forgiven after 15 years, shaving off time from Obama’s 20-year forgiveness.

“If you are predisposed to the status quo, this may be a good thing,” Testa said. “If you believe there should be drastic higher education reform, this may be a bad thing.”

Trump’s plan may only have incremental changes, but it has a higher chance of implementation because of it. While the official plan lacks specifics, it also suggests working with congress on reforms that will encourage universities to lower tuition costs.

Trump does not make any specific claims as to what he aims to do with higher education costs, but his plan states it will “ensure that the opportunity to attend a two or four-year college, or to pursue a trade or a skill set through vocational and technical education, will be easier to access, pay for and finish.”

“Although many argue for drastic higher education reform, it is incremental policy changes that tend to be adopted and passed into law,” Testa said. “Since Trump’s plan really does not mention any state-level incentives or mandates, it is difficult to say how state legislatures will respond.”

Trump has also threatened to remove the tax-exempt status of colleges and universities and has briefly mentioned limiting administrative growth, which he sees as a root cause for higher tuition costs, Testa said.

Testa said Trump has also pointed out what he sees as flaws in Clinton’s plans of rewarding grants to state’s that participate, without actually forcing them to lower tuition costs. Trump believes Clinton’s plan enables politicians with grant money, but universities can continue to raise tuition.

“What students ought to know is that these plans will have relatively little effect on them for some time, as both have to earn congressional approval,” Testa said. “If borrowing to pay for college, be sure to monitor interest rates and payback periods, and make sure your degree will help meet those demands.”

Nicholas Adkins is the student finance / jobs reporter, contact him at [email protected].