Democrats Sound Similar Alarm On College Affordability Hillary Clinton unveiled her plan to make college more affordable on Monday. How does it compare with the proposals of her Democratic opponents?

Democrats Sound Similar Alarm On College Affordability

Democrats Sound Similar Alarm On College Affordability

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Hillary Clinton unveiled her plan to make college more affordable on Monday. How does it compare with the proposals of her Democratic opponents?


One-point-two trillion dollars - that's the amount of student loan debt that Americans are carrying. And that makes it larger than credit cards and car loans. It's becoming an issue in the 2016 presidential race. Today in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton announced her plan to make higher education more affordable. As NPR's Tamara Keith reports, Clinton is only the latest Democrat to promise to help Americans pay for college.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: On the surface, at least, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley are all speaking the same language on college affordability.


BERNIE SANDERS: Free tuition at every public college and university in America.

HILLARY CLINTON: No student should have to borrow to pay tuition at a public college or university.

MARTIN O'MALLEY: Debt-free college as a universal option for every family in the next five years and to increase our completion rate by 25 percent.

KEITH: Sanders would tax Wall Street to the tune of $70 billion a year to give everyone free public higher education. Clinton's plan involves a mix of work-study, family support, expanded grants and incentives for colleges to keep tuition reasonable. She'd pay for it by limiting tax deductions for the wealthiest Americans. O'Malley's plan is similar, but emphasizes grants and making sure living expenses and books are covered, too. When they talk about the problem, they all sound a similar alarm. O'Malley's racked up more than $300,000 in personal debt to help his children through college.


O'MALLEY: How much sense does it make to - that you can refinance your home or buy a car for a lower interest rate than you can borrow money from your own government to send your kid to college?

KEITH: Sanders agrees.


SANDERS: It is totally unacceptable that 40 million Americans are drowning in more than $1.2 trillion in student loan debt - not acceptable.

KEITH: At a town hall-style event this afternoon at Exeter High School in New Hampshire, a young man told Clinton about his stunning share of that debt load.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: When I graduated, I had about $140,000 in debt. When they say that the average is $30,000, I really want to know where they're getting that number from...




CLINTON: Graduate school...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And in graduate school.

CLINTON: So you're a graduate school...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, with graduate I'm at $250,000.

KEITH: He said the interest rate on his loans started at 8 percent, but got bumped up to 12. Clinton responded saying that is wrong.


CLINTON: Well, you are going to be helped by my plan. I can tell you that because we are going to be able to refinance all of your debt to bring it down to where the interest rate is right now.

KEITH: As it stands now, federal student loans can't be refinanced by the government. All the Democratic candidates and some Republicans want to change that. It's something Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a hero for progressives, has been pushing for, too, though education finance experts say such a policy would help the wealthy the most. It is regressive, but also good politics, says Matthew Chingos, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute.

MATTHEW CHINGOS: And I think Democratic presidential candidates feel they need to do something to address the concerns of - that the folks have about paying for college and also get the political support of the Warren wing of the party.

KEITH: Republicans quickly dismissed Clinton's plan, calling it another tax-and-spend prescription from Democrats. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Exeter, N.H.

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