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Presidential candidates’ plan for student debt, college costs

As Election Day arrives, both the Democrat and Republican parties have agreed that college affordability and student debt are topics swirling around campuses nation-wide — topics both parties say need reform.

USF professors agree that tuition rates and debt are influencing students’ access to higher education.

“Most of the rest of the world, tuition for public universities is free,” Harry Vanden, political science professor, said. “Western European universities, except for England, have free tuition. Latin public universities have free tuition, as well as China. We are a bit behind in that.”

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton collaborated with her former opponent Bernie Sanders to develop an official proposal to expand and offer an alternative to aid students with free tuition for those with an annual income under $125,000.

In addition, Clinton proposes to offer tax breaks for low-income students, as well as federal Pell grants, to be utilized for living expenses and extra costs that students face year round. Her expectations for students in her college affordability proposal are for them to work 10 hours a week or accept low-interest student loans.

“I question that very premise,” Vanden said. “Certainly 10 hours is possible, but let’s be clear that the best way to get an education is to dedicate oneself full time to being a student to achieve a superior education.”

Republican nominee Donald Trump argues in favor of reducing the cost of college and student debt "in exchange for the federal tax breaks and tax dollars" and for making education easier to access, pay for and finish.

In October, he proposed an income-based repayment plan, which would include borrowers paying 12.5 percent of their income for 15 years after which the remainder of the loan would be forgiven. The current plan requires payments based on 10 percent of the borrower's income and forgiveness after 20 years.

“I think Trump’s program will at least cut out refinancing some diminution of debt,” Vanden said. “But possibly not as much. Lower interest rates would help, but only put a Band-Aid on the problem.”

Edwin Benton, political science professor, suggests the uniting question between the plans: Who is going to pay for it?

“One of the realistic components (is) the demands of federal funds, whether it be welfare, health care, public safety and of course defense,” Benton said. “Can American taxpayers afford it? Where is the money going to come from? There is only a finite amount of resources you can extract from the public in taxes to pay for it."

In comparison to public colleges around the nation, Florida institutions have some of the lowest-priced tuition rates, according to Vanden.

“A hesitancy in Florida schools is increased by the pressure to increase tuition, which can really diminish the quality of education in the long run,” he said.

Benton said USF has contributed to the success of its students with affordability and value.

“Universities in Florida, and USF included, have some of the lowest tuition (rates) of a public university in comparison to other states," Benton said. "Sure, any monies to offset those costs would be greatly beneficial to the student. Students in Florida are getting one of the best deals in the nation for a four-year college education.”