FARMVILLE, Va. – During Tuesday vice presidential debate between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence, many Longwood University students were hoping to hear detailed plans to deal with mounting college debt. They were disappointed—the issue came up only briefly from Kaine, and nothing from Pence. But it still tangibly affects the way these students think about their futures.
“I have family members who are still in debt from college at 50 years old,” said Tonisha Pitchford, a senior from Richmond, said. “I don’t want that to be me.”
One protester outside the vice presidential debate at the public liberal arts school in central Virginia, Alan Collinge, carried a tall sign that said “Student Loan Justice,” also the name of his activist organization. He’s worked for over a decade fighting the lack of consumer protections surrounding college loans.
“Neither of the major party candidates have effectively addressed the student loan issue,” said Collinge. “Hillary Clinton’s plan for free tuition is good for undergrads going to public colleges, but it wouldn’t affect anyone going to private universities or the 44 million people who have already been through college and have the debt.”
Tyler Wright, a 19-year-old from Fredericksburg, Virginia, dropped out of Radford University after his freshman year. His parents’ credit was not good enough to get a college loan so he turned to his grandparents to finance that first year. Tuesday he was decked out in Gary Johnson gear to protest at the vice presidential debate at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia.
“Knowing what I know now, I never would’ve gone to college,” Wright said. “If we’re supposed to go to college to get jobs, what about the people who can’t afford it now? What are we supposed to do, struggle through that?”
Longwood’s 5096 students just had a tuition increase of nearly 3 percent, making undergraduate in-state tuition rates $12,240. Many fear for their futures if they’re still saddled with debt.
“I’ll probably come out of school with $30,000 in debt, and I never want my child to have to do that,” says Alexandra Moushegian, a Longwood junior from Salem, Virginia. “I’m hoping we’ll get a better system.”
Kaine on student loans
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Kaine’s platform calls for debt-free college and says that “families with income up to $125,000 will pay no tuition at in-state four-year public colleges and universities. And from the beginning, every student from a family making $85,000 a year or less will be able to go to an in-state four-year public college or university without paying tuition.”
Two months before joining Clinton’s ticket, Kaine told the Huffington Post that he sees college affordability as a major issue, but that he is wary of ending tuition for everyone, regardless of income.
“We need to give careful consideration, particularly on the fiscal front, to whether there should be some type of income test with respect to free access to college,” Kaine said. “Richer Americans, or even Americans like myself who have a plan to help their children with the cost of college, perhaps shouldn’t have free access to college or get the same degree of help when there are so many young people who have worked hard but simply can’t afford the cost of higher education and their parents do not have the financial means to help.”
While Kaine has been fully on board with Clinton’s college affordability plan, a Politico investigation found yesterday that as Virginia’s governor, he helped advance the agenda of the country’s largest student lender, Sallie Mae, in opposition to an Obama administration college debt proposal.
Sallie Mae, the lender headquartered in his state, and its split-off company Navient have been criticized by those on the progressive left for their student loan practices, particularly in a 2014 scandal where the Justice Department alleged that they intentionally cheated tens of thousands of active-duty military members out of $60 million.
While governor, Kaine helped get Sallie Mae’s talking points about problems with Obama’s student loan plan to then Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and sent their alternate plan to White House adviser Jeff Messina. On the campaign trail, Clinton has amplified concerns about Navient’s student loan practices, saying the Department of Education student loan contractor is “misleading” borrowers and “doing some really terrible things.”
Pence on student loans
Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence relates to the issue of student loans on a personal note: he took out up to $280,000 in loans to pay for college for his three children.
As a congressman, Pence voted along party lines against a 2006 student aid bill attempting to increase funding to minority-serving institutions and limit student loan interest rates. As Indiana governor, Pence froze 2 percent of funding for Indiana public colleges until tax revenue rose. He also signed a bill requiring colleges receiving state financial aid to send students an annual “debt letter” to deal with concerns around over-borrowing. He also supported and signed the a law that provides scholarships to students who graduate in the top 20 percent of their class or score in the top 20 percent of the SAT/ACT.
The Trump and Pence platform says they will “work with Congress on reforms to ensure universities are making a good faith effort to reduce the cost of college and student debt in exchange for the federal tax breaks and tax dollars,” and increase opportunities for two-year colleges and trade schools.
Pence has yet to mention student loans himself on the campaign trail, but Trump has called for connecting student loans to borrowers’ job prospects. He has also alluded to more traditionally Democratic views on the issue, echoing Sen. Elizabeth Warren in arguing that the federal government should not make a profit off of college debt.
“That’s probably one of the only things the government shouldn’t make money off — I think it’s terrible that one of the only profit centers we have is student loans,” Trump said.