The Presidential Candidates’ Plans to Tackle Student Loans

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Updated on Thursday, February 25, 2016

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The candidates for the 2016 Presidential Election have very different stances on student loan debt. For the democrats, it’s a choice between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, while the republicans are choosing between Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

Here’s a look at how the candidates match up.


Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton is committed to changing the way student loans work. Her emphasis on education is evident from her plan listed on her website. Specifically, Clinton says on her campaign website that she plans to:

  • Ensure no student has to borrow to pay for tuition, books, or fees to attend a four-year public college in their state,
  • Enable Americans with existing student loan debt to refinance at current rates, and
  • Hold colleges and universities accountable for controlling costs and making tuition affordable.

Additionally, Clinton says that she wants to consolidate the four income based repayment programs into one plan, set at paying no more than 10% of income for everyone. Finally, Clinton plans to drastically cut interest rates on undergraduate loans, specifically. Read more about these plans here.

What it Will Cost: Clinton’s education reform will cost $350 billion.

How it Will be Paid For: Clinton intends to pay for her college education plan by cutting tax deductions for the wealthiest people.

What the Critics Say: Republicans don’t want to cut tax deductions and pay for this. It’s unfair to have wealthy people fund education for everyone. Marco Rubio called Clinton’s plan “Obamacare for College” (read more here).

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders addresses student loans and college funding head-on. He lists the following six steps campaign website that he plans to implement if he becomes President:

  1. Make tuition free at public colleges and universities.
  2. Stop the Federal Government from making a profit on student loans.
  3. Substantially cut student loan interest rates.
  4. Allow Americans to refinance student loans at today’s low interest rates.
  5. Allow students to use need-based financial aid and work study programs to make college debt free.
  6. Fully pay for college by imposing a tax on Wall Street speculators.

What it Will Cost: Sanders’ campaign estimates that his plan would cost approximately $70 billion per year.

How it Will be Paid For: Sanders plans to pay for his college education plan by taxing Wall Street speculators (on the Federal side). States would also be responsible for contributing.

What Critics Say: Critics argue that this plan costs too much money and puts too much pressure on the Federal government. This plan is compared to Medcaid in that it would require great help from both the states and the Federal government in a way that is not sustainable long term (especially because some people can afford to pay for college). Furthermore, critics argue that free public college puts greater pressure on private colleges that will be unlikely to compete with free tuition. Ultimately, the price of free college would fall on the taxpayers.


Donald Trump

Donald Trump does not take an official position on student loan debt or education financing. There is one interview that Trump gave with The Hill where he said “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.”

With so much grandiosity and banter, it is difficult to say what Trump would do with respect to student loans at this point.

Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio says that he plans to do the following with respect to college education:

  • Simplify existing incentives to help students pursue higher education,
  • Equip students and families with information necessary to make informed college decisions,
  • Reduce the burden of student loan debt by establishing automatic income-based repayment,
  • Reform outdated accreditation system to accommodate non-traditional education,
  • Invest in student success, and
  • Modernize higher education system to fit 21st century economy.

On his campaign website, Rubio says that “[d]emocrats’ approach to fixing higher education is the same one that has been tried in Washington for decades: raise taxes and pour more money into the current outdated system rather than take the initiative to modernize it.” Instead, Rubio believes his plan will fix the education system. Rubio also believes that student should be able to get investors to pay for their college educations by promising a portion of their income after graduation, called “Student Investment Plans” (read more here).

What Critics Say: Critics of Rubio say that the accreditation system is already too loose in the United States, and Rubio’s plan would lead to predatory for-profit colleges. Additionally, his plan to have investors pay for college at the expense of students’ incomes doesn’t solve the education-funding problem and at best is unfair because it will only help people who want to go into professions that are high earning careers (no help for teachers, for example).

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz does not take an official position on student loans or college funding. Last year, he voted against a student loan refinancing bill, which we can take as a big hint that he would be less pro-borrower as his democratic counterparts. Cruz has commented on paying off his $100k student loan debt bill, but he has made that an attempt to relate to the middle class more than an attempt to tackle student loan debt.

Plans are Bound to Change

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz each have different opinions and plans for reforming student loan debt and education funding if he or she is elected president. While some of the candidates have specific plans laid out, others barely touch on the issue. As the election approaches, time will tell whether these candidates further develop their plans for education reform and the crippling student loan debt in the United States.

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