Where all the 2016 presidential candidates stand on fixing student debt

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A new Fusion poll finds that 40% of young people have taken out a student loan—and most borrowers call their loans a source of stress in their lives.


So what are the presidential candidates planning to do about it?

Here's a rundown of what the 2016ers have proposed.


Hillary Clinton
The central goal of Clinton’s "New College Compact" is the elimination of student loan debt after college. It would attempt to achieve this by doing three things:

  • Making community college tuition-free.
  • Giving states $175 billion in grants to lower the cost of education. (In return, states would have to take steps to increase what they contribute to state education.)
  • Incentivizing states to increase oversight of public universities and take action to curb the growth of tuition costs (though they would not have to cap tuition).

In addition, Clinton's plan would do three things to make student loans more affordable:

  • Allow current student loans to be refinanced at current interest rates, an idea pioneered in the Senate by Elizabeth Warren.
  • End the profits that the federal government makes from student loans.
  • Create an income-based repayment program that would adjust debt payments based on post-graduation earnings and ensure that graduates never pay more than 10% of their income toward loans.

Bernie Sanders
Sanders' College for Act All would go further than Clinton and eliminate tuition and fees at public colleges and universities. Under his plan, the federal government would provide states with two-thirds of the cost of public college tuition and fees, and states would pick up the rest.  

Like Clinton, Sanders would:

  • Allow current student debt holders to refinance.
  • Lower the borrowing rate for all students.
  • Incentivize states to control costs at public universities.

Sanders would also try to get colleges to rely less on "low-paid" adjunct faculty and ensure students more time with tenured professors. In addition Sanders would expand work-study programs, and under his plan, students would not have to reapply every year for financial aid.


Martin O’Malley

O’Malley’s plan falls between Clinton's and Sanders'. Like Clinton, he would focus on ending student debt rather than eliminating tuition, but he would go further by capping tuition at state schools.


O'Malley also proposes to:

  • Create an income-based repayment plan similar to Clinton's.
  • Allow students to refinance debt, similar to the Sanders and Clinton plans.
  • Increase federal funding for higher education, with states matching federal dollars, similar to the Sanders and Clinton plans.
  • Expand work-study programs, similar to Sanders' plan.

The main distinguishing elements of O’Malley’s plan:

  • Freeze tuition rates for public colleges and universities.
  • Cap long-term rates based on the median household income in each state: 10% for four-year schools and 5% for two-year schools.
  • Create incentives to provide affordable child care on campuses.
  • Encourage schools to make sure students graduate on time.
  • Expand access to early college credit in high schools.

Unlike Clinton and Sanders, O’Malley would not make community college tuition free. O’Malley's plan would also crack down on for-profit colleges, a position both Clinton and Sanders have supported.



Marco Rubio
Rubio would match students with investors who would bankroll their education in exchange for a cut of their future income. His plan also aims to lower costs by increasing competition between schools. The major points: 

  • Change accreditation standards so that more schools can compete with each other.
  • Create an income-based repayment program.
  • Create “student investment programs” that would allow investors to pay for students' college tuition in return for a portion of their income.
  • Increase accountability by making colleges and universities provide data to potential students about what kind of income they can expect to earn upon graduation.

Chris Christie
Christie’s plan is similar to Rubio’s in its focus on student-investor partnerships and increased transparency, though he has not proposed changes to the accreditation system or an income-based repayment plan. The outlines of Christie’s proposed reforms are:

  • Create “income sharing agreements” similar to Rubio's student investment programs.
  • Increase Pell grants and assistance for students at the bottom of the income scale.
  • Increase budget transparency at schools so that students and parents can hold schools accountable for how tuition money is spent.
  • Christie has also criticized President Barack Obama’s plan for free community college and said that he is “not a fan” of free college.

Other Republican candidates

All the other candidates either have not released official plans on student debt or have not talked at length about it. Some have hinted at their positions, though.


Rand Paul questioned free tuition in a conversation with Fusion’s Katie McDonough: “My next question is, what about free cars? What about free clothes? Free makeup, free shoes? Everything should be free. But it can’t be free. Somebody has to pay for it.”

John Kasich has not explicitly said what he would do as president but did increase funding for Ohio’s state colleges and universities as governor.


Jeb Bush has said he will roll out a student debt plan within the coming months.

Donald Trump does not have a specific plan but has criticized the government for profiting off student debt. Trump is also currently embroiled in a class-action lawsuit over a for-profit college he founded called Trump University.


Bobby Jindal cut higher-education funding drastically as governor of Louisiana. He has not said what he would do as president.