Student loan debt emerges as presidential campaign issue

The problem of rising student loan debt cuts across age groups, and politicians hoping to appeal to young voters as well as parents have started touting potential solutions.

President Obama this year proposed that community college tuition should be free, following his successful push in 2010 to end the role of private banks as middlemen in providing low-interest federal student loans.

On the presidential campaign trail this summer, the issue of student debt — how to ease it for graduates and avoid it for future students — has gained prominence.

"Six years ago, there were very few people talking about student loan debt. Now on both sides of the aisle, we're seeing a true energy about speaking about student loan debt and higher education," said Natalia Abrams, executive director of Student Debt Crisis, a nonprofit group advocating for lower college costs.

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"It really does resonate with so many different generations," she said.

So far, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton unveiled a plan to address student debt, following comprehensive proposals from her Democratic presidential campaign rivals, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

"We need to make a quality education affordable and available to everyone willing to work for it without saddling them with decades of debt," Clinton said in a speech at a New Hampshire high school.

Although it's been much more of an issue with Democrats, some Republican presidential candidates have weighed in as well.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has several proposals, including one to provide students with more information about which majors at each college produce the best-paying jobs.

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Scott Walker has touted his decision as governor of Wisconsin to freeze tuition at the state university system for four years. And Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul wants to allow students to deduct the entire cost of their college education over the course of their careers.

"It's definitely going to be a topic of conversation in the campaign," said Cecilia Rios-Aguilar, director of UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute. "It's a big national problem."

jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

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