Hillary Clinton rolls out $350 billion, 10-year college affordability plan

Story highlights

  • Hillary Clinton's campaign aims to make in-state tuition available without having to take a loan
  • Access to a college education has been a big issue for progressive Democrats

Exeter, New Hampshire (CNN)Hillary Clinton rolled out her college affordability plan Monday, pledging to voters in New Hampshire that "costs won't be a barrier" to secondary education in a Clinton administration.

Both of Clinton's main Democratic rivals - former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont - have already made college affordability plans a cornerstone of their campaigns.
    Now Clinton has announced what her campaign is calling the "New College Compact," a pledge to tackle the cost of college, making low interest grants and loans more available and ensure the federal government "will never again profit off student loans for college students."
    "College is supposed to help people achieve their dreams, but more and more paying for college actually pushes those dreams further and further out of reach," Clinton said at Exeter High School. "That is a betrayal of everything college is supposed to represents."
    She touted the plan as a way to lower college costs while at the same time making it easier for American families to send their children to school. Clinton said college affordability is "one of the most important ways we can ease the burden on families and one of the single biggest ways we can actually raise incomes, by making college affordable and available to every American."
    Clinton will do this,she says, by providing incentives to states that agree to provide "no-loan tuition at four-year public colleges and universities." States that agree, under the Clinton plan, will win grants from the federal government.
    Clinton also pledged to continue President Barack Obama's free tuition plan at community colleges, as well as ensuring that students will "never have to pay more than 10% of their income when repaying the loan."
    "We need to make a quality education affordable and available to anyone who is willing to work for it -- without saddling them with decades of debt," Clinton said.
    Michael Dannenberg, a director at Education Reform Now, heralded Clinton's plan for not being a "typical more money for college aid approach."
    "This plan exemplifies the fact that both resources and reform are key to any pragmatic, progressive approach to higher education and K-12 challenges," Clinton said.

    $350 billion over 10 years

    According to the Clinton campaign, the plan will cost $350 billion over 10 years but will be "fully paid for by limiting certain tax expenditures for high-income taxpayers." Part of those limits would be cutting back on the value of itemized dedications for high earners, something Congress would have to approve.
    Republican critics jumped on this aspect of Clinton's plan.
    "What Hillary Clinton won't say is that her new $350 billion spending plan comes at the expense of charities across the country as she limits the deduction for charitable giving," said Jeff Bechdel, a spokesman for America Rising PAC, an anti-Clinton group.
    Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican candidate, said Clinton's proposal was "irresponsible."
    "We don't need more top-down Washington solutions that will raise the cost of college even further and shift the burden to hardworking taxpayers," Bush said.
    Clinton's campaign also released a video highlighting a number of students who have been saddled with up to $200,000 in student debt.
    "Higher education should be a right, not a privilege for those who can afford it," the video argues.
    Clinton said Monday that the best way to combat lifting American incomes is by investing in education.
    "College graduates earn $570,000 more on average in their careers than high school graduates," read a Clinton campaign fact sheet on the plan. "Graduates of community college, career training, certificate programs and coding boot camps also earn more."

    Competing college plans

    College affordability is a hot topic on the Democratic side of the 2016 presidential race.
    Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley unveiled a debt-free college plan in July, promising to lower tuition at state college and universities and tying loan repayment to income.
    "Unless we act now, more and more students will not be able to afford higher education at all, putting the American Dream even further out of reach," the former governor said in a statement.
    After Clinton rolled out her plan, the O'Malley campaign needled Clinton for releasing the plan after the former Maryland governor.
    "Debt-free college is an issue where Governor O'Malley has led, not followed," said Lis Smith, O'Malley's top strategist. "We need big, bold goals like Governor O'Malley's vision to make college debt-free for all students, and Governor O'Malley's plan to expand pell grants and freeze college tuition is the standard of how to get us there."
    Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders promised voters earlier this year that he would make all four-year public college and universities tuition free.
    "We have a crisis in higher education today," Sanders said earlier this year in announcing his plan. "Too many of our young people cannot afford a college education, and those who are leaving college are faced with crushing debt."
    Sanders has pitched the plan as something other countries have done, including Germany, Denmark and Finland.
    Clinton will continue rolling out her plan during a two-day swing through New Hampshire with events in Exter and Manchester on Monday and with another town hall in in Claremont and a community forum on substance abuse in Keene on Tuesday.
    Debt-free college has been a particularly important issue for the progressive base of the Democratic Party.
    The Progressive Change Campaign Committee has pushed hard for each 2016 Democrat to back a "debt-free college" plan and has pledged to hold candidates to their plans.
    "Hillary Clinton's plan is very big and ambitious -- leading to debt-free college and increased economic opportunity for millions of Americans," PCCC co-founder Adam Green said. "The center of gravity on higher education has shifted from tinkering with interest rates to making college debt free -- and Clinton's bold proposal is emblematic of the rising economic populist tide in American politics."