Remarks on college affordability in Claremont, New Hampshire

“I think this is a major challenge, and I want us to address it.”

At a town hall meeting in Claremont, New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton continued to lay out her New College Compact to confront student debt and to bend the cost curve in higher education.

Hillary’s remarks took on Republicans’ backward priorities, which continue to harm education and fail to address the student debt crisis.


Thank you so much. Thank you so very much to Dr. Harvey-Smith and the entire faculty, administration, student body of River Valley. I am so honored and delighted to be here, and I wholly endorse the New Hampshire goal of 65 percent by 2025. “65 by 25” is a very important goal.

Before we get started, I want to call up a longtime friend of mine. Ray, do you want to do the honors of—oh, you already did it? Okay, I missed it. I was in the overflow room. There is just as many people as there are in here in a room just across the hallway, and I want to do a shout out to them, tell them that they’re here with us in spirit, and they can hear and I think even see what we’re doing here today.

So it’s wonderful to be back in Claremont and to have this opportunity to talk with all of you. I’m running for president to renew the basic bargain of America: If you work hard and you do your part, you should be able to get ahead and stay ahead.

That’s why I have been emphasizing what it will take for us to start raising incomes again so more Americans can afford a middle-class life. That is the central challenge we face, because we’ve been going backwards instead of forwards when it comes to making sure hardworking Americans get rewarded.

We know who gets rewarded. The people at the top get rewarded. The deck is really stacked in their favor. If you are a CEO, you’re likely to make 300, 350 times more than the typical worker. So we’ve got to reshuffle that deck, and we’ve got to look at what it is that can be done to raise incomes. And I’ve been outlining my plans as I’ve traveled around New Hampshire. I drove by a Market Basket on my way here. Some of you know I’m for profit sharing for everybody, like they do at Market Basket.

And specifically, how we get strong growth, fair growth, and long-term growth. Well, today I’m talking about one of the most important aspects of that. Namely, how do we make college affordable and available for everyone?

Now, college has been a dream for many Americans for a long time. Some people question, “Well, you know, is post-secondary education really a good investment?” And the fact is, it still is. It’s a good investment in community college. It’s a good investment at a four-year college. In fact, somebody with a four-year degree will, on average, make a half-a-million dollars more than somebody who didn’t go on after high school.

But equally importantly, we know that the jobs of the future are going to require more education, more skills, more training—and that, as we go through our work lives, a lot of people will have to get those skills and education and knowledge refreshed and maybe even retrained. So I am adamantly in favor of making college affordable and accessible.

How do we do that? I rolled out yesterday in Exeter what I’m calling the New College Compact. How do we actually put together the resources and the incentives to enable young people—and maybe not-so-young—to be able to go to college? Well, I have a plan that I think will accomplish just that. It asks something from everybody. It asks that states put more resources into higher education in the right way. In other words, make decisions that are actually in the best interests of students.

And keep the costs down. Don’t use tuition raising as the one, two, three plan to try to get more funding for the college or the university. So I want to make it absolutely clear that you will not have to borrow money for tuition to attend a four-year public college or university under my plan.

And when it comes to some of the other costs besides tuition, like room and board and other fees, I want to make it possible for young people already eligible for Pell grants to use that money to pay their living expenses so they can actually afford to go to college, and for middle class families, we’re going to provide more ways of lowering those costs as well.

It’s also important that the college and universities and the states use the incentive money that my plan will offer to deal with these costs and to try to do what the community colleges here in New Hampshire just did: actually lower tuition. Why? Tuition between 2004 and 2014 went up 42%. In the midst of the Great Recession, higher than anything else was rising? You’ve got to ask yourself, this just doesn’t add up.

So we have to have a system of accountability under this College Compact. So colleges and universities need to do better. The state governments need to do more of what they used to do in order to keep tuition down. Families will have to pay something, but it will have to be affordable to them. And students will be asked to work ten hours a week, at least, so that they do their part.

It’s also really essential in our system of higher education to make community college as available as possible. I support President Obama’s plan for free community college. We’ve done the numbers on this. We can do this if we are committed to it.

And it’s also important to start dealing with the debt burden. You know, cost for college should not be a barrier, and debt should not hold you back. Right now, we have 40 million Americans holding $1.2 trillion in college debt. I met—yes, I see hands! Everywhere I go, I see hands. Saw one in the back there—yesterday, in Exeter, I met a young man who had one of the worst stories I’ve heard ever anywhere in the country in terms of how much debt he’s taken out to pursue his college, because he had to pay both tuition and room and board, and then go to graduate school, because that’s what he wanted to do to make his contribution.

So under my Compact plan, we will refinance everybody’s student debt. And what that means is—because I’ve met young people—this young man yesterday in Exeter, 12 percent. Twelve percent! We’re living in a time when interest rates have hardly budged above 0. You can certainly get a mortgage on a house and refinance it. You can get a car and have a payment you can refinance. But we don’t let our students and their families refinance student debt.

That is just wrong, and we’re going to change that under the College Compact. Under my plan, you will be able to refinance to the rate that currently exists, so all those students with five to 10 to 12 percent, they’re going to be able to drop it to 3.5, 3.8, 4 percent. I believe this will save thousands of dollars for many students. And it will also mean that more money will be freed up for these young people and their families to do other things with it.

And I have met young people across our country who have said the following to me: “I can’t move out of my parent’s home.” Sound familiar? Met a young girl in Exeter yesterday. She has a great job in Massachusetts, but in order to pay her student loans, she has to commute back and forth, because she can’t afford to live in or near Boston, where her job is.

Number two, “I can’t start a small business, like I want to. I’ve got this great idea. My buddies and I want to start this small business. But we’re all burdened down by student debt, and banks won’t lend us any money because we have to pay our student debts.” Who knows, maybe the next Steve Jobs is out there trying to figure out how to start a business.

And the worst, “We can’t get married. We can’t get married because we both have student debts and we’re both having to live with our respective parents.” Now, that is sad. I really feel bad about that one.

You know, we also want to recognize that if you do national service under the G.I. Bill in the military, under national service in AmeriCorps, or community service, you should be able to get a benefit that helps you pay your college expenses.

I want to fix some of the glitches in the G.I. program. We’ve had a lot of young men and women who’ve served our country go on to education, but some have been taken advantage of by the for-profit college that have really just taken the G.I. money and not produced the results. I will crack down on these for-profit colleges that are engaging in fraud and abuse of our veterans and look for ways to hold them accountable for everybody else.

Now, I do believe we have an opportunity to cut the costs of education through quality online learning. And I want to support that and I want to make it possible for your federal assistance for education to be used for quality online learning. But we’re going to have to be careful to separate the fraudsters from the people who are providing a good service.

But that’s one of the areas where I think there’s a great deal of opportunity to pursue, and I’m excited about that. How many of you have ever taken an online course about anything? Look at—yeah, look at all the hands! And I want to make sure that they are accredited, quality online courses that you can get credit toward a degree or a certification that gives you the credential you need to get the job that we hope is waiting for you. So I’m excited about what we can do together to help hardworking families and ambitious, hardworking young people get the education and the skills they need.

Now, I have to draw a contrast with the candidates on the other side of the aisle. If you—I bet some of you might have—sat through four hours and seventeen candidates of debate the other night. Really, I admire you greatly for that. It’s a part of being in New Hampshire, though, the first in the primary—the first in the nation primary. So I know you’ve got an obligation. But if you go and look at those tapes, if you haven’t seen it, there was not one word from one of those candidates about making college affordable or dealing with debt.

Now, I don’t know who they’re talking to out on the campaign trail—well, I kind of have an idea—but I’ll tell you who I’m talking to and listening to. I’m talking to a lot of young people and their families who raise their hands at events like this, or come over and talk to me after it’s over and say, “I’ve got this horrible debt” or “I had to drop out of college. My mom got sick. I couldn’t continue. What am I going to do?” I think this is a major challenge, and I want us to address it.

Not one word from the other side. And you take somebody like Governor Walker of Wisconsin, who seems to be delighting in slashing the investment in higher education in his state; in making it more difficult for students to get scholarships or to pay off their debt; eliminating the opportunities for young people who are doctors or dentists to actually work in underserved areas in return for having their debt relieved; ending scholarships for poor kids; and most surprisingly to me, rejecting legislation that would have made it tax-deductible for you on your income tax to deduct the amount of your loan payment.

I don’t know why he wants to raise taxes on students, but that’s the result. When you don’t look for ways to help people who are not sitting around asking for something, who are actually working hard to get ahead. That is the basic bargain.

So I am looking forward to debating on these issues, because this is what people talk to me about, and this is the kind of president I want to be. Every single day, trying to figure out how we’re going to help people who are working hard get the benefits of their hard work. And making college affordable and accessible—that’s one of the best things we can do.”

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