More Americans are going to college than at any time in history. And more are graduating with a student debt burden that will follow them for years, making it more difficult to participate in the American economy: owning a home, starting a business, raising a family. Total student debt in the U.S. now tops $1.6 trillion — making it the second highest category of consumer debt, behind only mortgages.
It's no wonder addressing the student loan crisis has become one of the top issues of the 2020 presidential campaign. That's why Cheddar reached out to all 24 declared Democratic candidates and asked what they would do to address the debt burden if elected president.
While Cheddar asked for just one thing each candidate would do to tackle the crisis, every campaign that responded had a hard time whittling down just what they would do on day one. Their approaches vary from those who want to eliminate all loans to those who prioritize a public service loan forgiveness model; nearly every candidate has a plan to tackle the student-debt load. But, almost every campaign highlighted that the student loan crisis is a problem with multiple causes and multiple solutions.
Here's what each campaign had to say to Cheddar:
  • Beto O'Rourke: "Beto would streamline and expand public service loan forgiveness and allow borrowers to refinance their loans at lower interest rates," Aleigha Cavalier, national press secretary for the campaign explained. The former Texas Congressman also plans to provide individuals with affordable higher education, debt-free options for middle-income students seeking four-year degrees, and eliminating tuition for two years at community colleges and public universities.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.): "She has a plan to cancel student debt, provide for free two year, four year public college, invest $50 billion minimum in HBCUs and $100 billion in Pell Grants." Read more about Warren's plan here.
  • Joe Sestak: "Commit our country to profit-free student loans, it will significantly lower the cost of college." He plans to do this by restructuring interest rates, calling the present model, in which the rate is pegged to the 10-year Treasury bond "outrageous."
  • John Delaney: His plan "would expand eligibility and improve terms for the Obama administration's income-based repayment programs, make loan forgiveness tax-free, lower interest rates and let people refinance at the lower rate." Read more about Delaney's plan here.
  • John Hickenlooper: He calls for increasing federal funding for public colleges and universities, cutting the federal interest rate on all student loans to 2.5 percent, making community college free for all Americans, and he also mentioned a program modelled off of Colorado's CareerWise program, "which offers high school students the opportunity to apprentice with all types of businesses while earning college credit and a paycheck."
  • Julián Castro: His plan would, "make college, community college, and vocational training tuition-free and drastically reform the repayment process to ensure no student is paying more than their income allows." See more of Castro's plan here.
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.): Her plan prioritizes public service as a path to college affordability and would reward people who commit to one year of public service with tuition-free college, according to her national press secretary, Evan Lukaske. In addition, "If they commit to two years, they'll earn four years of education." Lukaske also highlighted her work in the Senate to reduce student loan interest rates and reform loan forgiveness programs.
  • Marianne Williamson: Her plan supports "student loan amnesty" by reducing on-time payments from 10 to 5 years, reducing the interest rate "to a nominal, if not zero percentage rate," and eliminating the origination fee of federal student loans. Williamsons also plans to reverse the law requiring students to repay loans if they go bankrupt.
  • Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.): His plan would make sure Americans are not paying more than 10 percent of their income on student loans, expand access to the GI bill for all 33 million Americans serving in public service jobs ("I will pay for their college if they haven't gone to school yet, and I'll pay for their loans if they have") and make college cheaper for everyone.
  • Gov. Steve Bullock (D-Mt.): His plan calls for government oversight to reduce interest rates, to forgive the debt of students who give back to the community "through public service like teaching or volunteering in underserved communities," and making repayment plans tax-free and "incentivize more workplaces to offer" tax-free benefits.
  • Tom Steyer: He wants to "allow Americans to refinance their student loans, and write a Student Borrower Bill of Rights to stop lenders from trapping consumers into predatory schemes." Steyer would cancel the debts of 42,000 permanently disabled veterans on his first day in office. He also wants to make public education affordable to everyone by stopping Wall St. from "profiting off of students who only want to climb the economic ladder."
Two candidates referred Cheddar to their websites, where they lay out their loan forgiveness plans:
  • Andrew Yang: Reduce student loan payments, "Bailout for the People" to give forgiveness beyond a certain graduation period, propose a 10x10 Student Loan Emancipation Act to allow students to repay debt by pledging 10 percent of their salary per year for 10 years. Read more of Yang's plan here.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt): He pledges to make college and university tuition-free and eliminating student debt by placing a tax on Wall St. Read more of Sanders's plan here.
One campaign referred us to a previous media appearance:
While Cheddar did not receive a response from every campaign, a number of candidates spoke about student loans at the first debate in Miami:
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.): Her plan calls for free community college, doubling pell grants from $6,000 to $12,000 to cover families that make up to $100,00 a year, and making it easier to pay off student loans.
  • Joe Biden: His plan calls for free community college and freezing debt for those paying more than $25,000 in student debt a year.
  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg: His plan calls for free college for low- and middle-income students, making college more affordable, and expanding opportunities outside of college education.
*The campaigns of Amy Klobuchar, Bill de Blasio, Cory Booker, Jay Inslee, Michael Bennet, Pete Buttigieg, Tim Ryan, and Tulsi Gabbard all did not respond to comment for this piece.