Opioids Crisis Warren

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren takes questions from the crowd at the Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in Harwich, Mass., in 2018 where the senator hosted a community event on the opiate crisis. 

Elizabeth Warren, one of 22 Democratic candidates for president, recently announced a platform to forgive student loan debt and make college free if she is elected president.

Student loan debt is an issue affecting over 47 million Americans, totaling over $1.5 trillion dollars.

Warren’s plan would cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt for 42 million Americans, according to an announcement from her campaign. The plan also includes making public colleges free of tuition and fees.

The plan is set to be paid for by the “Ultra-Millionaire Tax," a 2% tax on 75,000 families with $50 million or more in assets.

Burdett Loomis, a political science professor at the University of Kansas, said some form of student debt policy is inevitable because of the magnitude of the issue.

“The more you learn about student debt, the more disturbing it gets,” Loomis said. “People pay and pay and pay, the interest builds up and it is a huge drag on the economy.”

Loomis said this policy could be a politically beneficial move for Warren, who will need to stand out in the most crowded field of Democratic primary nominees in history.

"I don't understand why everybody doesn't have some kind of program or a set of proposals among Democrats,” Loomis said. “You're directing your attention to younger age groups who are already supportive of you, and here you might be providing them with a really substantial benefit.”

Loomis said, though, Warren could face difficulty in implementing the policy if she were to win the nomination and presidency. Student loan debt is not a particularly partisan issue, so he said Warren may be able to compromise with Republicans.

“It would still be very hard in this partisan era. No question," Loomis said.

Garrett Miller, chairman of College Republicans, said he’s concerned about how the plan would be paid for, and how far debt forgiveness would go if this plan were implemented. But he said the cost of college is an issue that should be addressed.

“The cost of college is a huge problem for everybody,” Miller said. “It's not a Republican-Democrat, conservative-liberal talking point.”

Miller said he would like to see a tuition freeze on universities, limit reckless spending within universities and increase the amount of athletics revenue allocated toward students.

Ryan Reza, executive director of KU Young Democrats, said he’s very in favor of relieving student loan debt and reducing the cost of college.

“Senator Warren's plan seems really exciting for me, because even if she doesn't receive the presidential nomination, she's making the idea of student loan forgiveness and trying to fight rising tuition costs more of a mainstream policy,” Reza said.

Reza said while he’s excited about Warren’s plan, he would like to see increased public university funding at the state level.

"Senator Warren and any Democratic nominee or potential president needs to handle the actual reason as to why students are in debt, while also helping the students who are going through the problem and the process of dealing with student loan debt,” Reza said. “It has to be a two-pronged approach.”

With the start of primary elections still months away, Loomis said it’s largely unknown how this will end up affecting Warren and the outcome of the primaries, but it could play to her advantage.

"It is the worst of all debts, in many ways,” Loomis said. “And it's supposed to be this thing that gives everybody an opportunity, and to an extent it does, but it's also kind of a millstone on people's backs."