2016 Presidential Candidates' Higher Education Proposals

As the 2016 presidential election ramped up, NASFAA continued to closely monitor the candidates as higher education policy positions continued to emerge. This page serves as compilation of the two presidential candidates. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has unveiled her higher education platform, while Republican candidate Donald Trump intends to release his education plan in the future. Until then, NASFAA used comments from Mr. Trump's higher education advisor and components of the 2016 Republican party platform to build out Mr. Trump's higher education policy positions.

You can use the links below to jump to the positions of each candidate:

Hillary Clinton (D), “The New College Compact

College Costs

  • More than half of the total funds of Clinton's "New College Compact" will go toward grants to states and colleges. These grants will ensure that students do not need to take out loans for tuition and help reduce the burden of living expenses at four-year public colleges.
  • The funds in the New College Compact will also provide free tuition at community colleges and support private nonprofit colleges that keep costs low and provide value.
  • Under Clinton’s proposal, students will contribute to their costs through earnings from working 10 hours per week.
  • Students from families making $85,000 a year or less will be able to go to an in-state four-year public college or university without paying tuition, and students from families with incomes up $125,000 will pay no tuition at these schools by 2021.
  • Clinton’s plan would create a $25 billion fund to support private nonprofit schools that serve low- and middle-income students, such as private Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Student Aid

  • Clinton plans to increase college enrollment by simplifying the FAFSA.
  • Clinton would provide early Pell Grant eligibility notification to students.
  • Under Clinton’s proposal, Pell recipients would be able to use their grants fully for living expenses, since Pell Grants are not included in the calculation of Clinton's proposed "debt-free education."
  • Clinton’s plan would restore year-round Pell Grants.

Student Loans

  • Clinton’s plan would "significantly cut the interest rate on student loans."
  • Clinton would allow current borrowers to refinance their student loans at the current federal interest rate. Around one-third of the funds for Clinton's "New College Compact" would go toward relief on interest from student debt.
  • Clinton's plan would "consolidate the four income-based repayment programs into a single program with the same rules for everyone: Every student borrower will know they can enroll in a program where they never have to pay more than 10 percent of income, with college debt forgiven after 20 years so that those who consistently make payments can move on in their lives."
  • Clinton would streamline the process through which borrowers enroll in income-based repayment by using existing government data. She would allow borrowers to opt to have their student loan payments deducted from their paycheck through a new payroll deduction portal.
  • Clinton announced that she would take immediate executive action to offer a three-month moratorium on student loan payments to all federal loan borrowers so borrowers would have a chance to consolidate loans and sign up for income-based repayment plans.
  • Under Clinton’s plan, entrepreneurs would be able to defer their student loans with no payments or interest for up to three years.
  • Clinton’s plan would reward public service through loan forgiveness for AmeriCorps members and teachers who teach in high-need areas or in subjects with teacher shortages.

Innovation and Accreditation

  • Clinton’s plan would build on experiments allowing federal student aid to be used for high-quality career and lifelong learning programs with promising or proven records. "Title IV funds will be a lever to ensure accreditors are open to low-cost, technology-enabled programs... we will rigorously evaluate outcomes to make sure these programs work," her plan said.

College Completion

  • Clinton would build up initiatives like TRIO and GEAR UP. She would make new grants to the colleges and universities that invest in "student support, quality child care, partnerships with early childhood providers, emergency financial aid, and other interventions proven to boost completion, especially for low-income and first-generation students."
  • Clinton’s plan would increase funding for the Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program (CCAMPIS) from $15 million to $250 million per year, in addition to a compact with states or institutions to match this funding.


  • Clinton would "embrace bipartisan efforts for schools to share in the risk, such as the principles envisioned in the Student Protection and Success Act," introduced by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). "Our colleges and universities should be upfront about graduation rates, likely earnings, and likely debt, and how those metrics compare with other schools," her plan said.
  • On for-profit accountability, Clinton’s New College Compact would close the 90-10 loophole and would "defend and strengthen the gainful employment rule to ensure that for-profit schools adequately support students to complete their degrees and prepare students for work.”
  • Clinton's plan would "crack down on law-breaking for-profits by expanding support for the CFPB, FTC, DOJ, and VA to enforce laws against deceptive marketing, fraud, and other illegal practices."
  • Clinton would streamline the process by which students can cancel their debt. "She will also give defrauded GI Bill students another chance to use the education support they have earned," the plan said.
  • Clinton would ban repeat offenders, or "the servicers and bill collectors who consistently break the law and mislead or overcharge borrowers – from contracts to service federal loans."

Donald Trump (R)

Note: With the absence of an official higher education platform, NASFAA used comments from Trump's campaign co-chair Sam Clovis in an article in Inside Higher Ed and components of the 2016 Republican Party Platform to build out his higher education policy positions. In addition, NASFAA used an October 13, 2016, campaign speech on higher education.

College Costs

  • Clovis said the Trump campaign would fight proposals for debt-free public higher education and tuition-free public higher education.
  • He also said Trump would reject President Barack Obama’s proposals for a state-federal partnership to make community college free for new high school graduates.
  • Trump called on institutions, particularly those with large endowments, to spend more on students to lower the cost of college. He said he would push institutions to spend from their endowment and would reconsider "if those with large endowments deserve to keep those endowments tax-exempt.”

Student Loans

  • According to Clovis, Trump wants to move the government out of lending and restore that role to private banks. He believes local banks should be lending to local students.
  • Trump wants colleges to play a role in determining loan worthiness on factors that go beyond family income. For example, colleges should factor in future earnings when deciding whether or not to give a student a loan. Schools should think carefully before liberal arts majors at non-elite institutions are allowed to borrow based on their future earnings, Clovis noted.
  • Trump said he would implement an income-contingent repayment plan where a borrower would make payments capped at 12% of the borrower's income. After 15 years, remaining debt would be cancelled. 


  • Trump believes that all colleges should have “skin in the game” and share the risk associated distributing with student loans, Clovis said. No institutions should be exempt from this risk, even schools with histories of educating many students from low-income families.
  • Clovis said the risk for giving student loans needs to be substantial enough to change the way colleges decide whether to admit students and what programs they offer. As an example, Clovis noted that colleges should be careful lending to liberal arts majors because they don’t necessarily have job security after graduation.
  • Clovis said he hopes many colleges will continue to provide remediation, but he also said that colleges should not be admitting students that they aren’t confident can graduate in a reasonable time frame and find jobs. Admissions and loans should be based on a partnership between the student, the bank, and the college, he said.

Innovation and Accreditation

  • The Republican platform calls for new systems of learning, including technical institutions, online universities, lifelong learning, and work-based learning in the private sector.

Regulatory Burden

Publication Date: 10/14/2016

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NASFAA Policy Update Webinar - May 2021: NASFAA Policy Update - May 2021




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