Which candidates can solve the $1.2 trillion student debt crisis?

More than 40 percent of borrowers – that’s 22 million Americans with federal student loans -- are not making payments on those loans. Another one in six or 3.6 million were in default, meaning they had gone at least a year without making a payment. The data was contained in a quarterly snapshot of the Education Department’s $1.2 trillion student-loan portfolio.

     Strangely, the numbers represent an improvement and that is because more and more students are entering President Obama’s “Pay as You Earn” program, that allows them to reduce payments. Enrollment in that program has jumped 48 percent to 4.6 million borrowers. And, that raises the question, what should be done about student loan debt dogging grads, their parents and even their grandparents. Front runners in the presidential race say they have answers.

     Bernie Sanders believes that education is a right, not a privilege, and would make public colleges and universities free, paid for by a tax on stock, bond and derivative trading. He wants lower interest rates on federal student loans and existing loans refinanced at lower rates. Hillary Clinton similarly supports lower rates on debt, but doesn't go so far as instituting a free ride for students. She wants students to attend public college without taking on debt. To do that, she proposes that states work with colleges to cut costs and award needs-based grant money, and that student and parents contribute only what they can afford. She also favors tuition-free community college.

     Neither Donald Trump or Ted Cruz favor the free lunch proposed by their Democratic rivals, and both have talked about dismantling the Department of Education, which funds college grants, subsidized loans and work study programs. 

     What's astonishing is that no candidate has proposed a major initiative to cut the costs of college, which have been ticking along at an average increase of 3 percent every year, even during the recession. Without relief from prices increases, the burden of education will continue to rise whether it's paid by taxpayers, college students or their families.

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