The Candidates and Higher Education

As the presidential campaign heats up, it is time to look at where the candidates stand on higher education.

Perhaps the most important issues facing colleges and universities are affordability and student debt. The College Board estimates that tuition and fees for a two-year associate degree now costs approximately $3,435 a year, while a four-year degree from a public institutions run about $9,410. Student loan debt is now at $1.3 trillion, with graduating students owing $35,000 on average.

Both Secretary Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders support free community college. Oregon and Tennessee now have free community college for incoming freshmen who just graduated from high school. As many of these students are from low-income families, they are already eligible for Pell grants, which cover most of the cost of their tuition. The challenge is to provide them with enough support to pay for books and living expenses so that they can attend college full-time. Research has shown that community college students, who are enrolled full-time, complete their degree in three years as opposed to six years for those who attend part-time.

I also support free community college and serve on the board of America's College Promise, a national initiative, which is currently looking at how Tennessee's model could be replicated in the rest of the country.

Senator Sanders goes a step further and wants four-year public education to be free. This plan would cost an estimated $75 billion a year and would be paid for by imposing a tax of 0.5 percent on stock trades by investment houses and hedge funds, etc.; 0.1 percent on bonds and 0.005 percent on derivatives. His thinking is that Wall Street nearly destroyed our economy seven years ago and should now step up and help Americans finance their future.

Free college is not a radical new idea. England, Germany, France, Switzerland and China have already implemented this proposed tax and offer their citizens a free college education. Sanders also wants to triple the federal work-study program to both help lower-income students pay for college while, at the same time, gain valuable career experience.

Secretary Clinton's "New College Compact" ensures that cost shouldn't be a barrier to attending college, and no student should be saddled with crushing debt. She advocates refinancing student loans at current rates and cutting interest rates on all student loans. Students, who elect to attend a four-year public institution, would not have to borrow to pay for tuition, books and fees through major investments by the federal and state governments. She would hold colleges and universities accountable for making tuition affordable and guaranteeing that those, who invest in an education, would receive a degree. With her debt-free education, students, who receive Pell Grants, would be able to use this money for living expenses.

On the Republican side, Donald Trump started an online school called Trump University in 2005. He touted it as a way for students to understand deal-making. The school was never a university and violated New York State law for operating without a license.

According to the National Review, it is now embroiled in three lawsuits that allege that Trump University was "a classical bait and switch scheme." It was a scam, starting with the fact that it was not a university. Students were invited participants to enroll in a three-day, $1,495 seminar and ultimately advance to a "Gold Elite" program costing $35,000. Those who enrolled were promised that they would learn about Trump's real estate strategies from his "hand-picked real estate experts." This never happened, nor did promises that students would have "access to private" or "hard-money lenders and financing" for a "year-long apprenticeship program" and an improved credit score. Today, the institution is called "Trump Entrepreneur Initiative" and the lawsuits have not yet gone to court.

According to Inside Higher Ed, Senator Ted Cruz has been highly critical over consideration of race in college admission. As a Hispanic, who graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School, he resents the fact that some believe he only succeeded because of affirmative action. He believes that colleges should focus only on academic achievement, not race. The Senator has said repeatedly that he would get rid of the U.S. Department of Education. He is the chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, and has come out against funding studies related to climate change.

Governor John Kasich of Ohio has made his state a leader in freezing tuition for the next two years while a task force he appointed will look for ways to control state college costs. His new 100-percent, performance-based funding ensures that Ohio institutions of higher learning will help students complete courses and graduate. He has championed the work of community colleges and given them a greater impetus to help students move on and get a bachelor's degree. He advocates having younger students, who are qualified academically, take college courses for free while still in high school. These aren't new ideas, but it is important that they are being advanced in the national discussion about the role of higher education in strengthening our country's economic future.

I believe that the candidate, who becomes president, will have to take a hard look at higher education in this country. According to Department of Labor statistics, 36 percent of jobs in the future will require more than a high school education. I think that community colleges are the best chance to get an affordable education that leads directly to a well-paying job and a middle- class income. Whether it is a certificate program, an apprenticeship or an associate degree, community colleges are on the frontlines of the debate on the importance of higher education.