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Why the Next President Should Forgive All Student Loans

Aug 12, 2016

If Hillary Clinton is to win this November, she needs to motivate the electorate to come out to vote for something more than a justified aversion to Donald Trump.

Particularly for younger voters and voters with families, she has to capture their imaginations with a bold, simple, and common sense proposal to address one of the most critical financial and social problems currently facing a generation: the student loan crisis. And she needs to do so in a way that can do the most immediate good for the nation at large.

First, all outstanding student loan debt should be forgiven. Second, a new loan program should be created that is tied to incentives for college graduates to choose careers in public service and which indexes repayment to income.

Related: The “$500 million club” of colleges tends to be stingy with aid to low-income students

Current outstanding student loans amount to 1.3 trillion dollars, roughly 10% of all household debt. Student loan debt is larger than either car loans or credit card debt. Forty-two million Americans hold student loan debt. Student debt has been a drag on younger generations’ incomes and has contributed to the stagnation in middle class earnings.

The average debt at graduation has skyrocketed from $10,000 in 1993 to more than $35,000 in 2016. Furthermore, the federal government has set interest rates on student loans at twice the current market rate of other types of loans. Going to college should not be a profit center for Wall Street and the federal government.

By forgiving student loan debt—which is largely held by the government—a tremendous economic stimulus would be generated, whose beneficiaries are people, not banks.

The cost is comparable to the stimulus program created in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, and, in this case, Main Street and not Wall Street will benefit. Quickly, more than two generations of Americans would be able to invest in homes and develop and support families. And the Americans who benefit are those who have obtained education and skills, but whose careers have been hobbled by an inordinate amount of debt.

The Clinton and Sanders campaigns have argued in too cautious and limited a manner that the high cost of higher education cannot continue to be passed on to the individual consumer.

Our public policy regarding the financing of higher education has to be changed with bold and courageous action. The cost of higher education will not be reduced by technological gimmicks or by savaging the structure of the American university. While new technology, from the book to the smartphone, has always helped higher learning, it has only done so when making the indispensable connection between student and teacher stronger.

We must underscore the fact that universities are not businesses, and that indeed the progress of knowledge thrives on research, speculation, apparent impracticality, and the inherent inefficiencies of human interaction. A fair bit of unpredictability in the way research and teaching operate is essential. Our amalgam of universities and colleges, for all its shortcomings, remains the finest higher education system in the world and a magnet for students across the globe. It is perhaps the only arena outside of military might in which America is the envy of the world. We should keep it that way.

Once having wiped out existing debt—as an investment in our nation’s human capital—we need a new loan program for current and future students. It should include a structured forgiveness provision. As an incentive to recruit our best talent into public service, loan holders who work in key public sector fields, from teaching to law enforcement, should receive a forgiveness benefit. After 20 years of being a public school teacher, for example, one’s debt should be marked down to zero. This proposal is also compatible with making attendance at public institutions of higher education free for families making up to $125,000, as well as indexing repayment to income.

Related: Who’s fighting for college for the forgotten majority?

Critics of this idea will object that it is an irresponsible and unaffordable bailout that constitutes a bad precedent and a “moral hazard.” The opposite is the case. We cannot afford not to do it. Student loans of the type we now have should never have been instituted. They were predicated on an inflationary economy and rising wages over time, which is not the reality we all now face. Making higher education affordable and beneficial is what we should be doing now with our tax dollars, particularly given the massive transformation our national and global economies are experiencing.

A bold and clear initiative, and not narrowly defined complex adjustments is what is needed.

Courtesy of Auburn University

Alabama

Auburn University

Overall rank: 206

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $30,300
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $19,100
  • Average student debt: $22,250
  • Early career earnings: $49,000

With an undergraduate population of about 21,700, Auburn isn’t among the largest colleges in our rankings (or even in its state), but a long-time annual tradition known as Hey Day makes it feel even smaller. Students, faculty, and staff all wear nametags and are encouraged to say “hey” to anyone they see on campus. Full profile.

Courtesy of Arizona State

Arizona

Arizona State University

Overall rank: 154

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $25,600
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $15,500
  • Average student debt: $20,375
  • Early career earnings: $48,900

Popular majors at Arizona State include business, liberal arts, engineering, and the sciences, but the university is also a leader in testing new models for higher education, including blending traditionally separate academic disciplines. Full profile.

University of Arkansas
Matt Reynolds/Courtesy of University of Arkansas

Arkansas

University of Arkansas

Overall rank: 469

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $24,000
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $18,700
  • Average student debt: $21,524
  • Early career earnings: $47,400

Students at the University of Arkansas can choose from 78 different majors, and the college has especially strong options for those interested in agriculture, architecture, and engineering. The most notable campus landmark is the Senior Walk—three miles of sidewalks engraved with the name of every graduate since the school was founded in the 1870s. Full profile.

University of California Berkeley
Virginia Yeh—Courtesy of University of California Berkeley

California

University of California-Berkeley

Overall rank: 5

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $35,700
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $25,300
  • Average student debt: $14,667
  • Early career earnings: $60,300

UC-Berkeley, or Cal for short, ranks the highest of eight University of California system schools that made MONEY’s rankings. In fact, Cal is one of the most selective public colleges in country. More than 90% of freshmen graduate within six years, a rate well above even other elite public universities. Full profile.

Courtesy of Colorado School of Mining

Colorado

Colorado School of Mines

Overall rank: 139

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $32,700
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $23,800
  • Average student debt: $26,025
  • Early career earnings: $65,600

Colorado School of Mines is a small public university focused on engineering and applied sciences. Recent graduates do extremely well in the workforce, earning an average salary that tops peers from other schools by roughly 25%. Full profile.

Michael Marsland—Yale University

Connecticut

Yale University

Overall rank: 12

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $66,600
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $22,000
  • Average student debt: $12,000
  • Early career earnings: $58,800

Like its fellow high-ranking Ivy League peers, Princeton and Harvard, Yale is highly selective. But for students who are admitted, the college promises a very generous financial aid package and courses taught by some of the world’s most extraordinary academics. Full profile.

University of Delaware
Evan Krape—Courtesy of University of Delaware

Delaware

University of Delaware

Overall rank: 54

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $27,300
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $19,300
  • Average student debt: $24,127
  • Early career earnings: $50,700

The University of Delaware helped invent the modern system of collegiate study abroad, when a UD professor created a year-long program in France in 1923. Today, about 40% of Blue Hens take advantage of that opportunity, a high percentage for research universities. Full profile.

University of Florida
Ray Carson— Courtesy of University of Florida

Florida

University of Florida

Overall rank: 15

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $21,400
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $15,500
  • Average student debt: $15,133
  • Early career earnings: $49,700

The University of Florida is one of the biggest bargains in higher education, with tuition of just $6,300 a year for Floridians. For that low price, students get access to some of the world’s top professors, well-respected programs in fields as diverse as astronomy and journalism, and sports teams that often dominate their leagues. Full profile.

Raftermen Photography—Georgia Institute of Technology

Georgia

Georgia Institute of Technology

Overall rank: 35

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $25,700
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $17,700
  • Average student debt: $22,750
  • Early career earnings: $63,800

For in-state students, Georgia Tech provides a low-cost, technology-focused curriculum that can compete with the most elite private tech schools. The typical student has SAT scores in the 700s for each section, and undergraduate classes are known to be demanding. Full profile.

University of Hawaii at Manoa
Courtesy of University of Hawaii

Hawaii

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Overall rank: 396

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $27,900
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $19,500
  • Average student debt: $19,509
  • Early career earnings: $43,900

Hawaii’s flagship university includes the School of Hawaiian Knowledge, the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, and the School of Pacific and Asian Studies, allowing students to take advantage of its prime location for studying subjects such as Asian and Pacific cultures, tropical agriculture and medicine, ocean and marine science, volcanology, and international business. Full profile.

University of Idaho
Joe Pallen—Courtesy of University of Idaho

Idaho

University of Idaho

Overall rank: 198

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $20,400
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $15,700
  • Average student debt: $25,000
  • Early career earnings: $46,400

The university’s 124 majors cover all the traditional subject areas, as well as a solid selection of programs focused on natural resources, including fire ecology and management, forest resources, natural resource conservation, and renewable materials. That’s perhaps unsurprising judging from U of I’s location in the Palouse hills of northern Idaho, where outdoor activities such as skiing, biking, climbing, and whitewater rafting are popular. Full profile.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign_IL
Jason Lindsey—Courtesy of University of Illnois at Urbana-Champaign

Illinois

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Overall rank: 22

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $30,800
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $22,100
  • Average student debt: $20,950
  • Early career earnings: $56,800

Illinois’s flagship university is among the top 15 public schools on the National Science Foundation’s list of high research spenders, and its strongest academic programs include accounting, several types of engineering, and physics. Students also have access to the country’s second largest university library system (only Harvard’s is larger). Full profile.

Stephen Allen

Indiana

Earlham College

Overall rank: 28

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $56,700
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $24,700
  • Average student debt: $27,000
  • Early career earnings: $45,600

This small liberal arts college prides itself on exposing students to international culture. About 20% of students come from one of the 80 foreign countries represented at the school, and Earlham offers courses in 11 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, and Swahili. More than two-thirds of students also study abroad at some point in their college career. Full profile.

160807_50State_IowaStateUniversity_IA
Alamy Stock Photo—Alamy Stock Photo

Iowa

Iowa State University

Overall rank: 132

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $19,800
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $13,800
  • Average student debt: $25,250
  • Early career earnings: $50,200

Iowa State has an excellent agricultural college (no surprise there). But the university also has outstanding math and science departments, and boasts a unique research center devoted to studying virtual reality. Full profile.

Tommy Theis—Kansas State University

Kansas

Kansas State University

Overall rank: 330

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $23,200
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $18,200
  • Average student debt: $22,500
  • Early career earnings: $48,400

Kansas State’s proximity to Fort Riley, its work in military research, and its flexible offerings for soldiers and their families give the school a military flavor that runs through its more than 250 undergraduate majors. Full profile.

Arnold O'Neil

Kentucky

Berea College

Overall rank: 123

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $34,800
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $9,500
  • Average student debt: $5,750
  • Early career earnings: $33,100

This small liberal arts college is a standout for affordability. There’s no tuition—students instead work 10 to 15 hours a week to help pay their way. More than 84% of students from low-income families, and the college offers scholarships for those who can’t afford room and board. Full profile.

Louisana Tech University
Courtesy of Louisiana Tech University

Louisiana

Louisiana Tech University

Overall rank: 235

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $19,400
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $13,800
  • Average student debt: $20,985
  • Early career earnings: $47,600

Louisiana Tech offers a wide range of degrees, but the standouts at this public research university are its science and engineering programs. The National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, for example, have designated the university as a National Center of Academic Excellence in cyber defense education and research and information assurance research. Full profile.

Michele Stapleton

Maine

Bowdoin College

Overall rank: 43

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $64,100
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $25,800
  • Average student debt: $19,500
  • Early career earnings: $48,900

As part of Bowdoin’s classic liberal arts approach, students are required to take courses in all the major subject areas, including math, science, and the arts. Eighty-six percent of freshmen graduate within four years, one of the highest rates in the country. Full profile.

University of Maryland College Park
John T. Consoli— University of Maryland College Park

Maryland

University of Maryland-College Park

Overall rank: 19

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $25,300
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $17,600
  • Average student debt: $19,500
  • Early career earnings: $54,500

Like most large public universities, the University of Maryland has vast academic offerings and some all-star professors. The faculty roster boasts three Nobel laureates, two Pulitzer Prize winners, and, thanks to the campus’s proximity to the District of Columbia, leaders in major positions at federal agencies such as NASA and the National Institutes of Health. Full profile.

Rose Lincoln—Harvard University

Massachusetts

Harvard University

Overall rank: 3

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $64,800
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $14,300
  • Average student debt: $6,000
  • Early career earnings: $62,900

Harvard may be the most recognizable school in the world, and it’s practically synonymous with the prestigious Ivy League. Like many of its peers, Harvard excels in MONEY’s rankings not only because of the outstanding education it provides, but also thanks to its generous financial aid program. Full profile.

University of Michigan
Dave Lauridsen for MONEY

Michigan

University of Michigan

Overall rank: 2

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $28,100
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $14,300
  • Average student debt: $22,000
  • Early career earnings: $59,000

The University of Michigan accepts less than a third of the nearly 50,000 students who apply annually, and it’s nearly as popular with out-of-staters as with Michiganders. State residents who do get in receive an especially good deal at the school, though. It is one of only 11 colleges in MONEY’s top 50 where the average in-state cost of a degree totals less than $100,000. Full profile.

Saint John's University
MICHAEL BECKER—Courtesy of Saint John's University

Minnesota

Saint John’s University

Overall rank: 25

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $52,400
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $28,300
  • Average student debt: $27,000
  • Early career earnings: $47,400

Saint John’s University is a Catholic school for men that partners with a nearby women’s school, College of Saint Benedict, to share academic programs and campuses resources. Nearly 80% of students at Saint John’s graduate within six years, 12% higher than similar schools. Full profile.

Mississippi State University
Megan Bean—Courtesy of Mississippi State University

Mississippi

Mississippi State University

Overall rank: 274

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $23,500
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $13,900
  • Average student debt: $23,250
  • Early career earnings: $46,100

Founded as a land-grant school in 1878 in tiny Starkville, Miss., Mississippi State now has an enrollment of more than 20,000 students. Greek life and supporting the Bulldogs athletics teams are important parts of campus culture, and students ring cowbells by the thousands to cheer on their athletes. Full profile.

James Byard—WUSTL Photos

Missouri

Washington University-St. Louis

Overall rank: 87

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $69,100
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $34,100
  • Average student debt: $20,125
  • Early career earnings: $55,900

Washington University is known for its highly regarded pre-med track, but academics in any discipline are rigorous, and students say A’s are hard to come by. Still, the private university has a very high six-year graduation rate of 95%. Full profile.

Courtesy of University of Montana

Montana

University of Montana Western

Overall rank: 172

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $16,700
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $11,000
  • Average student debt: $25,524
  • Early career earnings: $33,000

Like many colleges these days, the most popular majors at the University of Montana are education, biology, and business. Unique among colleges, however, UMW also offers a four-year degree in natural horsemanship. Full profile.

Andrew Marinkovich

Nebraska

Wayne State College

Overall rank: 145

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $16,500
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $14,400
  • Average student debt: $21,270
  • Early career earnings: $37,500

Wayne State College started as a school for training teachers, and while education is still the most popular major, it has broadened its offerings to include some 90 undergraduate programs. While the college requires applicants to submit standardized test scores, they’re used largely for course placement and not admissions decisions. Full profile.

University of Nevada-Reno
Courtesy of University of Nevada

Nevada

University of Nevada-Reno

Overall rank: 601

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $23,500
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $21,500
  • Average student debt: $18,744
  • Early career earnings: $48,300

University of Nevada-Reno’s largest school is the College of Liberal Arts, but some of the smaller schools have also earned wide recognition. The Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering, for example, offers unique specializations in geology and mining science, and the journalism school has produced six Pulitzer Prize winners. Full profile.

Courtesy of Dartmouth

New Hampshire

Dartmouth College

Overall rank: 33

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $67,800
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $24,500
  • Average student debt: $11,625
  • Early career earnings: $60,200

The smallest school in the Ivy League, Dartmouth operates on an unusual, year-round quarter system, giving students the flexibility to arrange internships and study-abroad trips during the fall or winter without falling a semester behind. Also somewhat unusual: Professors teach all classes at Dartmouth. Full profile.

Princeton University
Courtesy of Princeton University

New Jersey

Princeton University

Overall rank: 1

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $61,300
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $20,100
  • Average student debt: $6,810
  • Early career earnings: $62,800

Princeton University’s generous financial aid makes it, according to MONEY’s analysis, the most affordable member of the Ivy League. The school gives such large grants to the six in 10 families who qualify (families earning less than $250,000 generally get some aid) that more than 83% of students graduate without any debt. Full profile.

Mario Morgado

New York

Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

Overall rank: 8

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $62,800
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $22,200
  • Average student debt: $17,570
  • Early career earnings: $63,200

Cooper Union is unique—a small, urban school that offers degrees only in art, architecture, and engineering. Though Cooper Union no longer has the free tuition policy it was founded with, it’s still much more affordable than other elite private colleges. Full profile.

Megan Morr—Duke Photography

North Carolina

Duke University

Overall rank: 39

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $66,600
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $24,900
  • Average student debt: $6,500
  • Early career earnings: $61,600

As one of the most selective colleges in the South, Duke attracts students with SAT scores in the mid-700s in math and reading, and accepts only about 11% of applicants. The university has a very low student-to-faculty ratio (7-to-1), meaning there’s plenty of opportunity to connect with professors. Full profile.

North Dakota State University
Dan Koeck—Courtesy of North Dakota State University

North Dakota

North Dakota State University

Overall rank: 224

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $20,700
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $16,700
  • Average student debt: $25,050
  • Early career earnings: $49,600

Founded as a land-grant university, North Dakota State maintains strong programs in agriculture and animal science. Thanks in part to tuition agreements that reduce out-of-state tuition, NDSU has an unusually high percentage (57%) of students from beyond its state borders. Full profile.

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Ohio

Ohio State University

Overall rank: 130

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $26,800
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $18,400
  • Average student debt: $22,250
  • Early career earnings: $50,100

Ohio State is one of the largest universities in the country, and alumni are fiercely supportive of the Buckeyes. The university’s 84% graduation rate is 8% higher than would be expected for students with similar academic and economic backgrounds. Full profile.

Alamy

Oklahoma

Southern Nazarene University

Overall rank: 125

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $34,800
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $21,700
  • Average student debt: $18,750
  • Early career earnings: $43,000

This small Christian liberal-arts college assigns freshman to small “communities” where they take some courses together and share faculty mentors. Education and early-childhood development are popular and well-regarded programs, and in keeping with the university’s Nazarene affiliation, it also offers theology and ministry programs. Full profile.

Courtesy of University of Portland

Oregon

University of Portland

Overall rank: 173

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $58,500
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $36,600
  • Average student debt: $25,000
  • Early career earnings: $52,000

The founder of the University of Portland envisioned the school becoming the “Notre Dame of the Pacific Northwest.” Today, the private Catholic university may not have the name recognition of Notre Dame, but it has made a name for itself. One example: its Entrepreneur Scholars Program, which combines classes, meetings with local and international businesspeople, and the opportunity to test new ventures. Full profile.

University of Pennsylvania
Lamont W. Abrams Jr.—Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania

Overall rank: 26

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $66,800
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $26,400
  • Average student debt: $21,500
  • Early career earnings: $60,700

Among the most prestigious and demanding departments within UPenn are business and economics. The demands prove worthwhile, though, as alums earn among the highest salaries of any undergraduate business program, according to Payscale.com. Students in other majors thrive, too, reporting average earnings 7% above students from similar schools. Full profile.

Mike Cohea—Brown University

Rhode Island

Brown University

Overall rank: 31

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $65,200
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $24,600
  • Average student debt: $16,000
  • Early career earnings: $57,500

Brown is known for giving its students a high level of academic freedom. They’re required to take at least one writing course by the end of sophomore year, but otherwise, they can take any course they want, choose to take courses pass-fail, and design their own majors. Full profile.

Courtesy of Clemson University

South Carolina

Clemson University

Overall rank: 21

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $30,300
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $22,700
  • Average student debt: $22,389
  • Early career earnings: $53,100

Clemson was founded as an agricultural college, and while agricultural science is still a specialty, other programs, such as business, are more popular today. Most everyone at this rural campus is united by pride, especially around Clemson’s celebrated football team. Full profile.

South Dakota State University
Courtesy of South Dakota State University

South Dakota

South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

Overall rank: 304

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $31,900
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $24,000
  • Average student debt: $25,799
  • Early career earnings: $45,200

Mining was the main industry in the Dakota Territory in 1885 when this school was established. Today, the School of Mines offers undergrad programs in applied biological sciences, geology, and paleontology, as well as numerous areas of engineering. Students can also expect their coursework to feature lots of hands-on learning through field research. Full profile

courtesy of Vanderbilt University

Tennessee

Vanderbilt University

Overall rank: 27

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $64,800
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $24,600
  • Average student debt: $13,750
  • Early career earnings: $58,300

Vanderbilt has a world-class medical school, and its pre-med undergrads receive extra advising, research opportunities, and other assistance, leading to a 70% medical school acceptance rate—well above the national average. Although fewer than half of Vanderbilt’s students are from the South, alumni like Al Gore, Lamar Alexander, and Rosanne Cash make up a Who’s Who of Southern politics and culture. Full profile.

Rice University
Courtesy of Rice University

Texas

Rice University

Overall rank: 4

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $58,600
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $24,300
  • Average student debt: $8,413
  • Early career earnings: $63,700

The typical Rice student majors in engineering, economics, or biology, but the university is also well known for in the field of political science. Graduates of the selective private school fare well in the workforce: Recent grads out-earn their peers from similar schools by 16%, according to salary data from Payscale.com. Full profile.

Mark A. Philbrick

Utah

Brigham Young University-Provo

Overall rank: 5

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $18,500
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $14,700
  • Average student debt: $11,000
  • Early career earnings: $51,800

BYU-Provo is the main campus of a private college system specializing in educating members of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Non-Mormons can also attend, but they are charged more for tuition and must obey the school’s strict code of conduct. The university has a high graduation rate, competitive salaries for recent graduates, and a very affordable price for a private education. Full profile.

Middlebury College
Bridget Besaw; Courtesy of Middlebury College

Vermont

Middlebury College

Overall rank: 48

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $63,600
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $24,400
  • Average student debt: $19,500
  • Early career earnings: $49,300

Middlebury, an elite liberal-arts college, is known for promoting “gap years,” allowing students to defer enrollment to travel, work, or volunteer. There’s an entire February admissions cohort made up of freshman who chose to start college in the spring rather than the fall. Full profile.

160807_50state_university_virginia_VA
Cole Geddy—U.Va. Public Affairs

Virginia

University of Virginia

Overall rank: 9

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $28,100
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $12,000
  • Average student debt: $19,500
  • Early career earnings: $55,400

UVA boasts the highest graduation rate of any public university in the country, at 93%. The university’s academic strengths are wide-ranging, and the campus is the only U.S. college to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its connection to founder Thomas Jefferson. Full profile.

Yue Deng—University of Washington

Washington

University of Washington-Seattle

Overall rank: 30

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $27,800
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $19,700
  • Average student debt: $16,326
  • Early career earnings: $54,000

Because of its proximity to Boeing’s manufacturing facilities, the flagship Seattle campus of the University of Washington has developed a particular expertise in aeronautics. UW also has encouraging admissions odds for such a top-rated school: The typical student has SAT scores of roughly 1350, and the school accepts about 55% of applicants. Full profile.

Kevin R. Cooke—Graule Studios

West Virginia

Wheeling Jesuit University

Overall rank: 416

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $38,100
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $22,000
  • Average student debt: $27,000
  • Early career earnings: $38,100

Wheeling Jesuit University is one of 28 Jesuit colleges in the U.S., and in keeping with the order’s traditions, a devotion to service and social justice underscores much of student life. During school breaks, for example, WJU offers immersion trips to experience areas with social challenges, such as New Orleans, El Paso, and El Salvador. The school also is home to the WJU Institute for the Study of Capitalism and Morality, devoted to examining moral and economic foundations of a free society. Full profile.

Bryce Richter—University of Wisconsin-Madison

Wisconsin

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Overall rank: 63

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $25,400
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $18,800
  • Average student debt: $23,000
  • Early career earnings: $50,100

Students come from all over to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which provides all the perks of a large flagship state university. Tens of thousands of students? Check. Fierce athletic competition and traditions? Check. Large courses and endless program offerings? Check. Full profile.

Ted Brummond—UW Photo Service

Wyoming

University of Wyoming

Overall rank: 168

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $19,400
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $14,600
  • Average student debt: $19,000
  • Early career earnings: $49,000

The University of Wyoming is the state’s only four-year college, aside from a small Catholic college founded a decade ago. While the university’s graduation rate is comparatively low, recent graduates do well in the job market, reporting average earnings that are 12% higher than graduates of similar schools. Full profile.

Phil Humnicky—Georgetown University

Washington, D.C.

Georgetown University

Overall rank: 84

  • Estimated price for 2016-17 without aid: $67,100
  • Estimated price for 2016-17 with average aid: $28,600
  • Average student debt: $17,500
  • Early career earnings: $52,900

Georgetown is one of the most expensive schools in MONEY’s rankings. But a key reason for that, its location in Washington D.C., is also one of Georgetown’s biggest draws, especially for students interested in studying politics or international relations. The university frequently gets Washington’s elite to lecture or teach classes, recently including former CIA director George Tenet, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and veteran campaign strategist Donna Brazile. Full profile.

There is no chance that Donald Trump and the Republican Party will embrace such a notion. But Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party can and should. Wiping the slate clean and starting anew in making higher education desirable and affordable can galvanize voters and ensure a turnout in November’s election that can secure victory for Clinton, while directly addressing one of the most important economic issues in a generation.

The resentment and discontent in the country are volatile and unpredictable. Tackling the crisis in student loan debt clearly and decisively will give the country and its young people hope and a concrete reason for optimism. A positive vision for the future, not based on fear, is what the nation wants, and needs.

Leon Botstein is the president of Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. This article originally appeared August 11 in The Hechinger Report.

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