Hillary Clinton, Democratic front-runner for the United States Presidential Election 2016, recently announced her plan to make higher education affordable “finally and forever.” The proposal, titled the New College Compact, would ensure that every American citizen can attend a public four-year college without incurring into debt. With a massive investment of USD 350 billion over 10 years –drawn primarily from tax hikes to the rich –each state would essentially cover whatever fraction of the tuition cost the families cannot afford. In addition, the plan would dramatically reduce interest rates on existing and new student loans, in order to help also those who choose to attend a private college. With an improved income-repayment programme, graduates would only pay up to 10% of their salary towards their loans, and only for a fixed period of time.
As could be expected, many are questioning the political and financial feasibility of Clinton’s proposal. If elected, it is far from certain whether she would get the backing she needs from Congress to implement her plan. Another question is whether USD 350 billion would suffice—especially considering that a third of the money would go to make up for the billions that the Department of Education would stop receiving once interest rates on student loans are cut. Mostly, though, Republicans are criticising the fact that Clinton’s plan invests taxpayers’ money in a broken system, and efforts would be better directed to making public institutions more efficient.
Concerns aside, the New College Compact has actually received broad support. The idea of debt-free higher education is universally appealing, especially considering current, record-high levels of student loan debt, which are toppling USD 1.2 trillion. Clinton’s revolutionary proposal addresses the issue head-on—and, at the very least, it puts the question of student debt at the heart of the presidential debate in the US, where it demands immediate attention.