Jul 7, 2015 11:58 PM

First on NH1 News: O'Malley to propose making college debt free

NH1 Political Director - NH1.com

GOFFSTOWN – When Martin O’Malley speaks Wednesday morning at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, NH1 News has learned the former Maryland governor and Democratic presidential candidate will propose making college debt free for all Americans.

According to an O’Malley campaign white paper obtained by NH1 News, O’Malley will “set a national goal that all students have access to a high quality, debt-free college education within five years, attainable at any in-state public college or university.”

O’Malley’s making college affordability part of his bid for the White House.

“To really make a dent in student debt, the federal government will have to act,” O’Malley wrote in April in an op-ed in the Washington Post. “Our ultimate goal must be for every student—most especially low-income and middle class students—to be able to go to college debt-free.”

The campaign says that "O’Malley believes higher education should be affordable, accessible, and accountable for all Americans. Just as the GI Bill allowed his father, a WWII bombardier, to go to law school debt-­-free and pursue his dreams, the next generation of Americans should have the same opportunity to attend college debt free.”

The campaign says 70% of students now graduate college in debt, averaging $28,000 in loans. To help reduce that percentage, O'Malley will propose that students and parents be allowed to refinance their loans at lower rates, tie minimum payments to income,

To stop skyrocketing tuition rates, O'Malley will urge states to immediately freeze tuition rates, and will call on states to restore investments in higher education. And to slow down the dramatic rise in tuition costs, "O’Malley would set a national goal of reducing the cost of tuition – to no more than 10 percent of state median income at four-­-year public universities, and to no more than 5 percent of median income at two-­-year public colleges."

To help low and middle income students cover rising non-tuition costs, O'Malley would increase Pell Grants and modernize and expand federal work study programs.

O'Malley will also propose setting a nation goal of increasing college completion rates by 25 percentage points within a decade and eliminate discrepancies in graduation rates based on race and income. O'Malley would partner with states and schools to improve completion rates.

The campaign also says O'Malley will highlight supporting part-time and mid-career students, and making child care affordable on campus.

College debt hits close to home for O'Malley

The issue of college affordability this close to home for O'Malley and his wife. The campaign says the former first couple of Maryland has taken out nine different loans totaling $339,200 on behalf of their daughters Tara and Grace, who attended Georgetown University and the College of Charleston.

In a Tuesday email to O'Malley supporters, his daughter Grace, now a public school teacher in Baltimore, wrote "at the age of 18, I made the decision to follow my dreams. My family and I now face years of debt -- and we know we're not the only ones.”

This is O'Malley's third trip to the first-in-the-nation primary state since he announced his Democratic presidential campaign about five weeks ago in Baltimore, the city he led for eight years as mayor. Last week NH1 News was first to report that when O'Malley returns Wednesday, his jam-packed morning until night itinerary includes a second education event, a backyard town hall at the home of his new Granite State counsel, and sitting down at the Barley House for “Pints and Politics."

O’Malley registered in the low single digits in the most recent polling of those likely to vote in next year’s Democratic primary in New Hampshire, trailing far behind front-runner Hillary Clinton and behind Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who’s poll numbers have been rising.

President Barack Obama pushed for free community college during his State of the Union address earlier this year. Since the more than 60 Democrats in Congress have backed a resolution calling for debt free college.

O'Malley's not the first Democratic presidential candidate to bring up the issue. Sanders has put forth a congressional provision that would eliminate tuition costs at public colleges.

As for Clinton, she's talked numerous times on the campaign trail about making college more affordable and has applauded Obama's proposal to make community college free.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee has been urging that the issue be a top topic on the presidential campaign trail.

"Martin O'Malley's belief that debt-free college must be accessible to all students, and must apply to all public colleges and universities, is spot on - and we look forward to seeing the plans of others," PCCC founder Adam Green told NH1 News.

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