Democrats discuss education ahead of Iowa caucus

Just seven days before the Iowa caucuses, the Democratic presidential candidates made one last case for their candidacy.

On Monday, Jan. 25, three Democratic hopefuls for president participated in a town hall-styled forum at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where they took questions from the audience. 

With a younger audience at the event and with many students in attendance, a portion of the forum focused on the candidates’ plans for education.  Sen. Bernie Sanders was the first to address the audience about his plan to provide free tuition to college students through increasing the taxes on Wall Street.  

“A college degree today is the equivalent of what a high school degree was 50 years ago,” Sanders said.  “People want to criticize me, fine. I believe that every kid in this country who has the ability and the desire should be able to get a higher education regardless of the income of his family. And I will pay for that through a tax on Wall Street speculation.”

Next, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley discussed his plans for America’s future, including debt-free college for students.  

“I have put forward in your state 15 strategic goals to move our country forward again, to rebuild the truth of the American dream to get wages to go up, to make college more affordable and debt-free within the next five years, cut drug overdoses in half in the next 10 years, gun deaths in half in the next 10 years,” O’Malley said. 

Hillary Clinton, who received the endorsement of the Des Moines Register just days before the forum, was the last candidate to take the stage.  After being asked about the lack of enthusiasm from her younger supporters compared to the supporters of Sanders, she tried to connect with the younger demographic and stress that she was the progressive choice.  

“I’ve been on the front lines of change and progress since I was your age,” Clinton said. 

The candidates took questions from members of the audience during the forum, and Joy Latson, a sophomore at Iowa State, was able to ask O’Malley about his record in Baltimore and how his zero-tolerance policies negatively effected the African-American community.  

In an interview after the event, she said, “I know that there are a lot of issues that are really important, but I know, since I am a college student, college debt and the cost of that is a really big issue. I mean, me being able to attend college, and I know I’m going to grad school after this, and it’s really expensive.  I know plenty of people like me who aren’t lucky enough to get a scholarship or the financial aid and who are very capable of going to college, but don’t have the funds to go.”

To solve the problem of high tuition, Latson said Sanders had the best plan.  

“Bernie Sanders talks about having free tuition for college, which I think would be great,” Latson said.  “I know a lot of people criticize how he is going to pay for [it] with taxing Wall Street and increasing the taxes to help pay for that, which I think is a good idea.  I feel like a lot of the candidates have good ideas when it comes to combatting debt that students accumulate, but I kind of feel that Sen. Sanders has, in my opinion, the best plan for that.”

Freshman Elizabeth Fischer at Drake University was undecided before hearing the candidates, but also said that education was important to her.  

“I think that debt from college and making college affordable, as a college student, it’s really important to tackle that as quickly as we can,” Fischer said, “because it’s getting outrageous to pay for school anymore … I really enjoyed Martin O’Malley’s views on education.” 

The audience members at Drake University were not the only ones watching the forum.  CNN shared the intimate Iowa evening with the rest of nation by airing it on television.  

Missouri Western student and elementary education major Maddie Marx was one of those watching the forum on TV.  As a college student and a future teacher, Marx said education was an important issue for her and thought all three candidates presented good ideas for improving the country’s educational system.  

“Obviously, no college student is going to argue with having free college,” Marx said.  “I mean, that’s a great idea, but making that happen is another thing.  So, we have Bernie Sanders saying we’re going to have complete free college and that’s a great idea in theory, but people don’t want taxes to go up, so you encounter a problem.… We also have the problem of debt-free college, which is also an amazing idea.  I kind of more on the side of Hillary Clinton and paying off that debt and dissolving debt and income-based debt [repayment].”

All three candidates did well, Marx said, but the major difference she found was not between the individual candidates, but between the two political parties.  

“I think anybody watching it is comparing it to a Republican debate or discussion,” Marx said.  “There’s such a vast difference between the two, and I’m not just saying that because I do happen to be more on the left side, but I think it’s apparent to anybody that this [the Democrat forum] isn’t a knock-each-other-down, hurt-each-other’s campaign race.  It’s an actual ‘let’s have a discussion and talk about policy’ sort of race.”  

With the forum coming just days before the Iowa Caucus, it is sure the people of Iowa will have plenty of discuss before the important vote.