Clinton calls for action to cut student loan debt for 40 million Americans

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DURHAM, N.H. — Hillary Clinton tackled the issue of rising college costs and student debt before a packed room of students and educators at the University of New Hampshire, where she also picked up the endorsement of New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan.

Noting that there are more than 40 million Americans carrying more than $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, on Friday Clinton said it’s high time for solutions that both Republicans and Democrats in Washington could get behind. Recent figures from the U.S. Department of Education show about 6.9 million of those borrowers hadn’t made payments due in almost a year or more, up 6 percent in the past year, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

“Investing in education is so important, it helps all of us,” Clinton said at the event, which Hassan co-hosted at the state school. “Everyone has to step up.”

In Clinton’s $350 billion plan, the New College Compact, students would have the option to attend state colleges without having to borrow, but they would have to work at least 10 hours a week to contribute to the cost and kick in “realistic” family financial contributions.  According to the Clinton campaign website, her plan would be financed “by limiting certain tax expenditures for high-income taxpayers.” 

By proposing increased funding for education and opportunities for students to work off their tuition without all of their income going to loan payments, Clinton said she believes that the country could produce a better workforce for an improved economy.

Changes in education finance need to be made at the federal and state levels, as well as in university systems and individual schools, Clinton said. Her plan calls for giving 25 million students the chance to refinance current loans at lower rates, but suggests the savings would average just $2,000 over the life of a loan.

At the forum, Clinton took aim at the high interest rates on many student loans – debts that currently can’t be refinanced at lower rates.

Asked how many had students loans, nearly everyone in the crowd raised their hands. Clinton then asked if any had rates of 7, 8, up to 11 percent interest, prompting more hands to rise.

“It’s crazy,” Clinton said. “It’s wrong.”

The former secretary of state, U.S. senator and First Lady drew appreciative applause when she said lenders shouldn’t be profiting off of student debt. Her plan includes letting borrowers set up income-based repayment plans and lower interest rates on federal education loans.

On the stage with Clinton was a recent UNH graduate, Stacy Horn, who said she has struggled to get by because of her student loan debts.

“I have the degree. I have the experience,” Horn said.

But after participating in a five-year program to receive an undergraduate and a master’s degree in education, finding steady work in her field has been difficult, Horn said. After taking out loans to cover school costs, she also used debt to pay for basic living expenses when her unpaid student teaching internship took up so much time she couldn’t take a paying part-time job on the side.

Horn said she is competing with and losing to educators with more experience when it comes to landing full-time teaching jobs in her area. She said her financial situation has kept her living in her parents’ home and unable to bid for jobs in more far-flung locations. Any money she does make, she said, goes to paying her debts.

“Every [student loan] payment I make is just chipping away at the interest alone,” Horn said.

Clinton’s plan includes loan forgiveness in exchange for public service. She has proposed cutting the amount owed when borrowers participate in certain community service programs across the country.

“Allowing people to work hard at what they love has a big pay off for everybody,” Clinton said.

Forgiving debt in exchange for public service has also been proposed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is pursuing the Republican presidential nomination. Christie has said that such a program could advance needed projects across the country while giving young people saddled with debt a way out.

“We are making money off of our kids, and it’s disgraceful,” Christie said at a town hall-style gathering in nearby Dover last week.

Hassan, a Democrat, supports Clinton’s proposals and gave her presidential bid her formal backing at the UNH event. Clinton, once leading in polls of Granite State Democrats, now trails Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by more than 10 percentage points, according to survey averages compiled by

Clinton has also called for working with states and public universities to make higher education more affordable.

“No student should have to pay for state schools,” she said. The candidate also demanded that schools be held more accountable for spending, as a way to hold costs down.

Her plan also proposes tax incentives for businesses that provide paid apprenticeships to replace unpaid internships, so students aren’t forced to choose between working in their preferred career fields without pay and taking part time jobs that pay but won’t help advance their careers.

“You’ve got to work hard, but your country, your government should have your backs,” Clinton said. Making college easier to afford will mean more Americans get degrees, boosting their incomes and improving the quality of the nation’s workforce, so it’s not just a “nice” thing to do, she said. And that coupled with a reduced debt burden will also mean they have more money to pour back into the economy.

“Every generation is supposed to have a better chance to climb that ladder of opportunity,” she said.