National Opinions

Clinton’s free tuition plan will reduce student debt, aid in refinancing

McClatchy-Tribune

The issues facing America’s colleges and its college students have rightfully been getting plenty of attention this presidential election campaign.

After all, education is key in attaining financial health. Time and again, financial success has been linked with schooling, whether it occurs in a trade school, community college or four-year university.

The average annual income gap between college-educated workers and those without diplomas has grown to more than $30,000 — not a small sum for individuals, their families and the communities that depend on their consumerism and tax revenue to drive the local economy.

Despite education’s importance, enormous barriers to affording it still exist for far too many aspiring students.

Many can’t even get started with higher education because of the cost. And some families, even though they earn too much money to receive grant or loan support, still cannot afford the escalating costs.

Even those who do qualify for loans often wind up borrowing huge sums of money to complete their degrees, leaving school with not just a diploma but also crushing debt as they begin their careers.

I know such challenges firsthand. Getting into college wasn’t a problem, but paying for it certainly was.

After helping my older siblings finance their educations, my parents found themselves down to one income and with increased money pressures resulting from aging and depleted reserves. Consequently, I was largely on my own in paying for school.

Despite good grades, academic grants didn’t materialize, and my parents made too much money for me to qualify for state or federal grants. So I turned to loans, finished school with numerous types of debt and spent the next decade living on the financial edge before successfully breaking free.

Things could have gone much worse, though, and that’s exactly what happens to so many.

While Donald Trump, outside dodging criticism over Trump University, doesn’t talk much about education, it’s been refreshing to see Hillary Clinton take the discussion to a new level.

In fact, she has a plan that would immediately make families earning $85,000 or less a year eligible for free tuition at four-year public colleges and universities. The income threshold would rise to $125,000 by 2021. All community colleges would have free tuition under her plan.

The blueprint also calls on states to increase educational funding and would hold institutions of higher education accountable for controlling costs and promoting student success.

She would also establish a $25 billion fund supporting historically black colleges and universities and institutions serving Hispanics and other minorities, not to mention students who are parents.

The plan also would make it easier to refinance loans and force lenders to offer loans with lower rates. Predatory lenders would be targeted as well.

Taken together, the measures will help many students find a better path forward. The plan will be funded by rolling back certain tax deductions and credits for high-income earners, her campaign has said.

For all its positives, of course, the plan is not perfect. Many students will still find non-tuition expenses a burden, and grant funding at the state and federal level needs to be boosted beyond what the plan calls for.

If the plan is fully implemented, though, it would dramatically lower the financial hurdles to higher education and give a helping hand to students past, present and future. Such a plan deserves all our support.

Don Kusler is the executive director of Americans for Democratic Action, the nation’s oldest liberal advocacy organization.

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