Clinton, Rubio, and College Affordability


Gilberto Flores
National Beat Reporter

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced their 2016 presidential campaigns this past Sunday and Monday, respectively. But where do the candidates stand on an issue that is near and dear to students: the cost of a college education and the debt that comes with it?

Clinton sought the presidency before in 2008 and ran an arguably successful primary campaign. But without enough delegates to become the presumptive nominee by the end of the primaries, Clinton suspended her campaign and endorsed Barack Obama. Sunday’s announcement places Clinton as the clear frontrunner for the Democratic nomination and comes after months—some would argue years—of speculation that she would once again pursue the presidency in 2016.

During her time in the Senate, Clinton’s voting record on student debt had been very pro-borrower. She was a major advocate for the College Cost Reduction and Access Act in 2007, which expanded Pell grants and lowered interest rates for Stafford loans from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent between 2007 and 2012. She also twice introduced the Student Borrower Bill of Rights Act, a bill that would have created a list of rights for student borrowers, imposed limits on loan repayment plans to better reflect the borrower’s income, required colleges to be more transparent about students’ post-college employment and income information, and allowed loans to be forgiven in case of bankruptcy, among other potential changes.

Rubio is the third to enter the race for the Republican nomination, after Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY), in what is sure to be a crowded primary with more candidates expected to enter the race. The Internet would surely remember Rubio from his GOP rebuttal to President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address, in which he took an uncomfortable pause in the middle of his speech to take a sip from his water bottle while struggling to maintain eye contact with the camera. An awkward gaffe aside, Rubio is easily one of the more plausible and mainstream of the Republican candidates so far, compared to the Tea Party favorite Cruz and the Libertarian outsider Paul.

The 43-year-old son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio hopes to establish himself as the fresh-faced Republican who can connect with younger voters. College affordability and student loan repayment is likely to be a staple issue of his campaign if his goal is to attract the youth vote.

Rubio is no stranger to the financial realities of paying off student loans. With a B.A. from the University of Florida and a law degree from the University of Miami, Rubio finished his education with over $100,000 in student loan debt, which he did not manage to pay off until 2012.

In 2014, Rubio co-sponsored the Dynamic Student Loan Repayment Act with Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), but the bill died in the Senate. It was supposed to set up a program that allowed federal student loan borrowers to only have to pay 10 percent of their monthly earnings. The goal of the bill was to shift payment plans from a fixed amount model to a model based on percentage of income, with the intention of protecting low-earning or unemployed graduates from defaulting on their loans.