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Thursday June 1st

Where do 2020 presidential candidates stand on student debt?

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With the third Democratic presidential primary debate on Thursday, the field has been effectively cut in half, with only 10 candidates taking the stage. One issue that affects UNC students is the candidates' positions on the student debt crisis.

About 1.2 million North Carolinians carry student loan debt, a total of $44 billion. Between 2008 and 2018, North Carolina ranked second nationally in the growth of its student loan debt, with tuition at in-state public, four-year colleges rising 45 percent in this period.

UNC ranks fourth in the state in the average student loan debt per borrower among universities, with an average of $22,466 owed and 40 percent of graduates carrying some student debt.

The total amount of outstanding student loan debt sits at $1.61 trillion, divided among 44.5 million borrowers. This places student loan debt as the second highest consumer debt category, behind mortgage debt, but greater than both credit card and auto loan debt.

Because of the issue's magnitude, it is helpful to consider some of the candidates’ positions on the student loan debt crisis, as well as the Trump administration’s proposals moving forward.

Major proposals from the Trump administration include limiting borrowing, simplifying the repayment system and eliminating Public Service Loan Forgiveness altogether. 

Lance Won, a UNC senior, carries about the same amount of debt as the average borrower, but doesn't think Trump's proposals address larger problems of rising tuition costs.

“It’s like a Band-Aid, but again there’s a much larger problem,” Won said. “There’s probably trillions of dollars, if not hundreds of billions of dollars of debt. What percent of that can be resolved through public service?"

Still, Won maintains an open mind going into the 2020 election.

“If there was a candidate that would make me sway my decision, it would be a candidate that really targets universities more so than the debt,” Won said. “I think the foundation is the universities — the debt is just a symptom, a side effect of a larger problem.”

Alana Edwards, president of UNC Young Democrats, is focused on electing a Democrat who will address the college debt crisis in 2020.

“I don’t see a lot of progress on the issue of student debt if we continue to have Trump in office, but I also think we should take a close eye and really pay attention to what candidates are saying in the Democratic field right now, too,” she said.

UNC College Republicans could not be reached for comment on this story.

Here's where the Democratic candidates stand:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden, the current primary forerunner, announced plans to reform the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program so it more effectively forgives loans for teachers.
  • New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker has proposed the Debt-Free College Act, legislation to establish a state-federal partnership providing matching grants to incentivize states to invest in public higher education.
  • South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s plan, which the campaign has dubbed “A New Call to Service,” aims to provide debt relief to borrowers in exchange for national service and canceling loans of borrowers attending low-performing career training programs. His campaign site also mentions canceling debts of borrowers from low-quality, for-profit programs. 
  • California Sen. Kamala Harris’ plan forgives up to $20,000 for borrowers who have received a Pell Grant if they start a business and operate it for at least three years in a disadvantaged community. Harris’ plan also grants qualifying borrowers loan deference interest-free for up to three years during a business formation period.
  • Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke has endorsed a plan to forgive student loan debt for teachers working more than five years in a public school. Other teachers would have student loan payments suspended while teaching in public schools. For other public servants, O’Rourke has proposed forgiving 10 percent of borrower’s debt at the end of each year working in a public service position.
  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has offered the most substantive reform plans of the field. He proposed eliminating all $1.6 trillion in existing student-loan debt held by either federal government or private lenders. To subsidize the plan's cost, Sanders suggested implementing a tax on Wall Street, which he claims would generate more than $2.4 trillion over a decade — covering $2.2 trillion cost of debt cancellation.
  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has rolled out a loan forgiveness plan, calling for the elimination of up to $50,000 of student-loan debt for borrowers earning less than $100,000 annually. For those with household incomes between $100,000 and $250,000, her plan diminishes assistance — $1 less in relief for every $3 earned. Those with household incomes of more than $250,000 would not receive debt cancellation.
  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang’s plan seeks to reduce student loan payments through the "10x10 Student Loan Emancipation Act," in which the federal government would buy student loan debt and allow students to opt into a plan to repay it through pledging 10 percent of their yearly salary for 10 years, after which debt would be forgiven.

You can watch the Democratic Debate this Thursday, Sept. 12 on ABC News from 8 to 11 p.m. EST.


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