Presidential candidates’ higher education proposals could be boon for GW students

As the 2016 presidential race intensifies, candidates have begun unveiling higher education policy proposals that may have implications for private school students, such as those at GW.

While all of the proposed higher education plans are centered on public institutions — and range from pushing states to support public institutions to guaranteeing students can graduate without debt — experts say that students at private universities could find themselves reaping the benefits.

The most prominent proposal comes from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who would push states to financially support public institutions and slow down tuition increases, which have risen nationwide over the past few years. The plan would also allow students to refinance existing loans and lock in lower interest rates by cutting annual percentage rates on federal student loans, which could potentially eliminate any profit the government would receive from the loans, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Matthew Chingos, a senior fellow studying education policy at the Urban Institute, said Clinton’s plan will help private school students on the “back end” of their education-related finances.

“[Clinton’s] plan to reduce interest rates on existing loans would be particularly useful to those who graduated from private colleges,” Chingos said. “Lower interest rates on loans would disproportionately help students at private colleges because they need to borrow more.”

But at the same time, Chingos said while students may benefit from the plan, high-cost institutions like GW could be hurt because it’s “Econ 101” that students may turn to a lower-cost public institution instead.

Last year, the average public school tuition ran about $9,000 per year for in-state students and $23,000 for out-of-state students.

GW continues to charge one of the highest tuition rates in the country, with next year’s tuition totaling more than $50,000 for the first time in its history. But the University will also help students pay their tuition bills with an $182 million pool for financial aid. GW also has a fixed-tuition policy, which locks in tuition for returning students.

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, who is currently serving as a senator from Vermont, unveiled a plan in May that would make four-year public universities free for students at a cost of $70 billion a year. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley also rolled out a plan this summer that would help students graduate debt-free.

Tatiana Melguizo, an associate professor of education at the University of Southern California, said regardless of the election outcome, there will be positive changes to financial aid policies at all schools, which will make it easier for students to handle the costs of college at public or private institutions.

Melguizo said private four-year universities like GW may also need to prepare for an influx of transfer students for their junior and senior years after students receive their associate degrees.

The Democrats’ proposals follow President Barack Obama’s call last winter to make community colleges free, a plan that could cost $80 billion over the next 10 years. Melguizo said that while Republican candidates haven’t unveiled official platforms to restructure higher education, they should be rolling out plans as the campaigns pick up.

“The Republicans should be more moderate later,” Melguizo said. “Right now, we are hearing rhetoric, but they know they need to offer serious reforms in the interest of affordability and financial aid.”

Ryan Lasker contributed reporting.

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