How Will Chris Christie Fix the Student Loan and College Affordability Crisis?

This is part of an ongoing series by Credible about how the 2016 presidential candidates would affect student loans and the financing of education for students and borrowers.

Chris Christie, Republican Governor of New Jersey and former U.S. Attorney, has not formally announced his campaign yet. He has, however, been holding town hall meetings in New Hampshire in an effort to build grassroots support and return to favor with conservatives after the George Washington Bridge scandal that dealt a blow to his ambitions. Little by little, Christie seems to be putting the pieces back together and he’ll likely garner enough support to formally launch a campaign for the Republican nomination. In looking at Christie’s record on college affordability in New Jersey, and his statements on student loans and their impact on families, we get a decent picture of what a Christie presidency could mean for higher education debt.

Christie has repeatedly lampooned universities for continuing to raise tuitions during the economic downturn, and has said that they do this because they know students will continue to take on more and more debt. “[Universities] continually bring things up and just think ‘Oh well [the students] will just borrow the money’,” he said during a speech in 2013. He also recounted the way his $40,000 of law school debt kept him and his wife from buying a house for years. “We already had a mortgage,” he said, “it was our student loan payments.” With four university-aged kids of his own, Christie often highlights the way college affordability has been personally relevant to him and his family.

Moving past the speeches and on to his record as Governor of New Jersey, Christie has been cautiously supportive of refinancing models and income based payment plans. He recently signed a bill to create a College Affordability Task Force in his state, a piece of legislation he had vetoed twice before. The new bill will include the exploration of a “Pay It Forward” model, where state tuition would be eliminated and graduates would instead pay back loans as a percentage of their income. Graduates with higher incomes would complete their payment plan sooner, while those who earn less would take longer to pay off their debts. The task force will also consider an accelerated high school curriculum for students interested in studying medicine.

Critics of the New Jersey Governor wonder why it took him so long to pass the bill, however. The first two times it came across his desk, Christie sent it back saying that he agreed with the mission but felt the efforts were redundant of initiatives that were already underway in the executive branch.

Now that Christie has signed the College Affordability bill and the task force will get started on potential solutions to student debt in the state, concrete actions could coincide conveniently with a presidential campaign. With his eye on the oval office, Christie will likely tout this bill and perhaps use the ideas it generates to develop a blueprint for a fix to the country’s college affordability crisis.

To learn more about what private sector options are available to help graduates with student debt save, visit Credible.