2016 candidates take stance on education


Isd Politics Team

Almost everyone agrees the cost of college and the mountain of debt that students face once they graduate is problematic — but Democrats and Republicans disagree on how to address the issue.

As of 2014, Iowa ranks ninth in the nation for highest average student debt upon graduation, according to a study from the Institute for College Access & Success. The study found that on average, Iowa students graduate with almost $30,000 in debt.

Where do the current presidential candidates stand?

While the candidates have differing ideas — everything from making public college tuition free, to forgiving some student debt, to incentivizing colleges to keep costs down, to innovation at colleges — candidates’ stances generally reflect their parties’. 

Mack Shelley, professor of political science, explained how the two major parties generally talk about education:

“[Democrats] typically want to put more money in education. You can also expect them to generally be supportive of things like pre-kindergarten and back up teacher unions,” Shelley said.

Shelley went on to explain how the Republicans differ.

“[Republicans] will often talk about support for voucher programs and private schools and typically support government not getting involved in schools, especially at the federal level,” he said.

While both parties have a general stance on education, candidates don’t always fully align with their respective parties. Read what each 2016 candidate has to say about education policy.


Lincoln Chafee, former governor of Rhode Island, U.S. senator from Rhode Island

Chafee has focused on tackling student loans. He increased funding for higher education in Rhode Island by $10 million in an effort to stop increasing tuition and interest rates. He wants to make higher education more accessible.

Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State, U.S. senator from New York, former first lady

Clinton proposed eliminating student debt and increasing state and federal funding for students at public colleges. Her recent proposal promises that students who commit to working at least 10 hours per week while enrolled in college are able to avoid taking out tuition loans. Other aspects of her plan include increasing borrower protections and decreasing the need for loan companies.

Martin O’Malley, former governor of Maryland

O’Malley wants to make college education “affordable and achievable” to everyone in America.

He proposes refinancing all current student loans at lower rates and making an income-based repayment plan for all minimum payments. O’Malley would reduce the cost of tuition to 10 percent while increasing Pell grants and work-study opportunities.

He also wants to “create multiple pathways” to graduation that fit students’ specific needs. During his term as governor of Maryland, O’Malley’s tax plan provided the biggest increase to school funding in the state’s history.

Jim Webb, former U.S. senator from Virginia

Webb has not spoke much about education, but while in the Senate advocated for higher standards in K-12 schools, and pushed for pre-K programs. He proposes addressing the student debt issue through a system of replacing monetary debt with public service hours.


Bernie Sanders, U.S. senator from Vermont

Sanders looks to progressively address college affordability and accessibility. He wants to make public colleges and universities tuition-free. Sanders also said he would like to allow recent college graduates to refinance their loans at lower rates.


Jeb Bush, former governor from Florida

Bush alternatively focuses on increasing degree completion rates and lowering the cost of tuition.

“60 percent of full-time equivalent students in public universities graduate with a four-year degree in six years,” Bush said. 

Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon 

Ben Carson believes young adults need to take personal responsibility of their future. He said students need to carefully analyze and consider the costs before making a decision on higher education.

He encourages working during college and even taking time to save up money before attending. Carson said he’s willing to explore ways to efficiently reduce the student debt, but not at the expense of adding to the more than $18 trillion in national debt.

Chris Christie, governor from New Jersey

Chris Christie wants to expand alternative funding for college, including income-share agreements — requiring students to pay a percentage of their future income in exchange for private financing — and tax credits from community service.

Christie wants to allow students to see a cost itemization for tuition, letting them know exactly what they pay for. He is also a supporter of alternatives to four-year universities like stackable credentials.

“Stackable credentials” would allow students to take courses from different colleges as needed without losing any credits.

Ted Cruz, U.S. senator from Texas

Cruz has focused mostly on K-12 education. He supports state-level decisions over the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Cruz has not talked much about higher education but said he is in favor of abolishing the Department of Education and giving loan-handling responsibility to states; most Republicans say this shift will bring down the cost of college.

Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard

During a visit to Iowa State in September, Fiorina said government involvement in education has driven up the cost of college. She said the federal government should get out of the student loan industry, which will create competition and drive down costs.

Lindsey Graham, U.S. senator from South Carolina

Graham believes loans are the way for students to survive college financially. In 2013, he voted against federal loans having limits on interest rates. As the first person to go to college in his family, Graham suggests student loan programs should be preserved.

Mike Huckabee, former governor from Arkansas

Mike Huckabee takes an almost liberal view on higher education. He’s voted for bills that would allow students to refinance their loans at a lower rate, expanded two state-funded scholarships and increased higher education budgets nine out of the 10 years he was in office. He wants to “tackle the establishment and reform colleges and universities so they make sense for the jobs of tomorrow.”

Bobby Jindal, governor from Louisiana

Bobby Jindal has focused on K-12 education and eliminating the Common Core. Jindal believes America needs to “restore” the balance between parents and teachers by giving parents the freedom to choose where their children go to school. He has called rising tuition a “huge” problem. 

John Kasich, governor from Ohio

Kasich believes students should be encouraged to take college classes during high school, so they can minimize the number of courses and their associated costs in college. He also implemented a “performance-based funding formula” to push colleges to make graduation more attainable, which keeps enrollment up and tuition low.

George Pataki, former governor from New York

Pataki has proposed downsizing the Department of Education as well as eliminating the Common Core, saying the Common Core is a “horrible idea.” 

He also said the government should not profit from student loans. Pataki believes college is too expensive, and that the government should work with colleges to lower costs and allow students to only pay for the services students use.

Rand Paul, U.S. senator from Kentucky

During a recent visit to Iowa State, Paul talked about his stance on free college.

“Someone has to pay for that,” Paul said, suggesting it is not free.

Paul wants to stop the rising cost of tuition by addressing the “root cause.” He said less government involvement in subsidizing education will bring down the cost, and he wants more accountability and innovation from universities, which will, in turn, benefit students.

Marco Rubio, U.S. senator from Florida

Rubio wants to make higher education less expensive, less time-consuming and more flexible. He proposed simplifying the federal financial aid application, implementing an income-based repayment method for federal student loans and modernizing higher education by making it “better fit a 21st century economy.” Rubio often mentions he had more than $100,000 in student debt just four years ago.

Rick Santorum, former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania

While in the Senate, Santorum said every Pennsylvanian should have access to higher education; he also supported legislation that provided loans, grants and tax incentives. While campaigning in Iowa, he said, “We’re already providing aid and support,” emphasizing Democrats who want to subsidize education more do not realize that someone has to pay for it. 

Donald Trump, businessman

As with other issues, Trump has been somewhat vague on education policy. At the K-12 level, he has said Common Core standards should be eliminated. He has advocated for cutting back the Department of Education. After Trump toured Jack Trice Stadium at the Cy-Hawk game with ISU President Steven Leath, he said they had a chance to talk about education policy but would not elaborate on what they discussed.