UMD Reacts to Lack of Affordable Higher Education Talk in GOP Debate

An important issue for college students isn’t only foreign policy or how to fight the immigration issue; it is simply how to make school affordable.

Even though affordable education is an increasingly important issue amongst younger voters, the Republican debate Wednesday evening barely even touched on the topic.

Like the past two debates, the structure remained the same. An earlier debate prefaced the later primetime debate with the more newsworthy participants. The presidential hopefuls met on stage at the University of Colorado, Boulder, but surprisingly kept most students shut out from the 11,000 seat Coors Event Center, with only around 150 tickets going to faculty, university board members, and a few students. (Only about 1,000 to 2,000 seats were actually filled during the debate.)

During primetime, 10 candidates participated: businessman Donald Trump, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Fla. Sen. Marco Rubio, former Fla. governor Jeb Bush, former tech executive Carly Fiorina, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, N.J. governor Chris Christie, Ohio governor John Kasich, and K.Y. Sen. Rand Paul.

The college affordability issue is one that resonates deeply with students at the University of Maryland in College Park. While the state does boast low in-state tuition of $8,724 according to College Board, for many that still isn’t low enough to allow them to go to college debt- and loan-free.

“A college degree is becoming a necessity in today's society and the high cost of college either prevents people from attending college or starting them in massive debt directly after graduation,” sophomore criminology major Braidon English said.

Outside of tuition, universities also garner money from their students with other fees. So for many students, tuition isn’t the only cost that needs to be brought down, it’s also all of the unnecessary fees, according to English.

Of the candidates who spoke on the issue of educational affordability, all generally agree that less federal involvement (leaving education to the states) and better accountability will lead to a modernized educational system. However, they did not offer up many specifics as to how they would aid the situation.

“Most people can’t get a college degree without going into debt. Over 40 million Americans have student loans and many of them cannot pay them back,” debate moderator Sharon Epperson said. “This country has over $100 billion in student loan defaults. That’s billion with a ‘B.’”

The question was directed at Kasich, who has been working with the Ohio Senate to cut tuition for Ohio universities by at least five percent, according to a plan proposed by the state’s senate.

“Personally, I think state universities could cut a large portion of tuition and be able to function at the same standard they function at now,” English said. “I'm not sure where exactly every cent of my tuition goes to but I doubt that it just goes to paying for my classes and the other services the campus provides.”

Kasich argued that not only should the states be lowering tuition, but also putting more emphasis on college credit while in high school, as well as alternative higher education platforms other than the four- and two-year university models.

“And, of course, we need to take advantage of online education to reduce these costs and begin to dis-intermediate the cost of four years,” Kasich said.

Bush also spoke on the issue, putting more emphasis on the idea of the federal government staying out of higher education and leaving it up to the states to worry about.

“In Florida, we have the lowest in-state tuition of any state, because there’s accountability, just as John said. Let the states do this,” Bush said. “You’ll create a much better graduation rate at a lower cost, and you won’t indebt the next generation with recourse debt on their backs.”

It should be noted that Bush’s claim of Florida’s in-state tuition being the lowest in the country is false.

Agreeing with the general consensus College Park students had with affordable education, sophomore Christina Paras said, “I do think that I would have considered other schools out-of-state more if they weren’t so expensive. No one should be deterred from going where they want to because of their financial situation.”