Senator Bernie Sanders is one of the frontrunners of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary contest, and he has a large amount of support from young people. But where does he stand on student loan debt? Here’s what we know.
Sanders was one of the earliest supporters of the concept of free or debt-free college, and he propelled the concept into the national discourse when he ran for president in 2016. Sanders has a detailed debt-free college proposal that includes the following:
- Eliminate tuition at public colleges and universities for households earning $125,000 per year or less by creating federal financial incentives for state participation.
- Increase Pell Grants for lower income households (Pell Grants are federal need-based awards that do not have to be repaid).
- Increase federal Work Study opportunities for students.
- Reduce and cap interest rates on all newly-disbursed federal student loans to no higher than 5% for undergraduates and 8.25% for graduates. These proposed interest rates are actually higher than what Senator Kamala Harris has proposed.
Senator Elizabeth Warren has a similar debt-free college proposal, but while her plan would be paid for by a wealth tax on the super-rich, Sanders would fund his free-college proposal via a surcharge on stock trades.
Student Loan Reforms
While Sanders has offered a bold proposal to substantially reduce the need for students to rely on student loans to pay for their education, his positions on reforms for those who already have student debt are less robust. He has offered some proposals to allow federal student loan borrowers to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates, and he has expressed his belief that the government should not be profiting off of student loan borrowers. But he has not offered much in the way of detailed, concrete proposals. Sanders has also generally supported increased oversight over the federal student loan servicing industry, although he has not generally taken the lead on this.
Student Loan Forgiveness
While Sanders has expressed support for existing student loan forgiveness programs like Borrower Defense to Repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness, he has not offered much in the way of policy proposals related to loan forgiveness – either in the form of fixing problems related to these existing programs, or creating new loan forgiveness opportunities for student borrowers. Sanders has not offered any proposal remotely like Elizabeth Warren’s detailed, comprehensive plan to cancel most student loans, and interestingly, he has not said much about it at all.
Sanders has been at the forefront of advocating for debt-free college, and many of his rivals for the presidential nomination have adopted some variation on his position. However, while his plan could certainly help future college students, he has yet to release a comprehensive and detailed proposal to address the $1.5 trillion in student loan debt that already exists. Given that many political observers see Sen. Warren as one of his primary rivals in the presidential primary, he may be forced to release his own version of a plan to address the student debt crisis if he wants to remain a top-tier candidate.