Debt-free college. Tuition-free college. These concepts are garnering a lot of attention on the presidential campaign trail.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s plan proposes to make debt-free college a reality with targeted tax increases, limits on institutional spending and devising controls to prevent the schools from gaming whatever system ends up being put into place.

Former Governor Martin O’Malley’s plan calls for freezing tuition rates at the nation’s state-run schools while at the same time reversing the trend of declining federal and state support for these. And Senator Bernie Sanders has upped the ante by championing taxpayer-supported, tuition-free education altogether, similar to what Germany has accomplished.

Not to be outdone, most of the Republican candidates have articulated their own ideas about improving higher education affordability.

Former Governor Jeb Bush continues to beat the drum for a “market-oriented approach” that includes enhanced online learning, which he, Governor John Kasich and others believe is less costly. He’s also a proponent of increased involvement by the private sector (presumably in the form of more participation on the part of for-profit colleges), as Senator Marco Rubio also advocates.

And then there is the matter of paying for all that.

With regard to existing student loan debts, businessman Donald Trump, Governor Chris Christie, Senator Lindsey Graham and former Governor Mike Huckabee have indicated their support for refinancing these with public money, in advance of the affluence that will result from the heightened level of job creation they predict will follow Republican electoral success. Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates continue to call for lower interest rates even though that by itself is proven to be insufficient.

Going forward, Senator Rubio has talked about so-called student investment plans (also known as human capital contracts) in which funding for higher education would come from private equity firms and venture capitalists that make lending decisions based upon school rankings and major areas of study, and the impact that can have on a borrower’s future earnings. Dr. Ben Carson favors charging the schools for the interest on the loans that their students undertake to pay the bills.

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Mitchell D. Weiss