According to numbers released by the White House earlier this year, there are about 212,000 New Hampshire residents with student loans — about 16 percent of the population — and they collectively carry a over $5 billion in outstanding student debt.
Candidates are taking notice.
Jen Palmieri, the national communications director for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, says it’s an issue that “comes up organically all the time” when Clinton is in New Hampshire.
It makes sense, given the numbers. According to the Project on Student Debt, the average undergraduate debt in the state is more than $32,795, the highest in the country.
During a house party in Windham this summer, a resident told Clinton about his student loans, including one private loan with interest rates as high as 9 percent, according to a transcript supplied by her campaign. Clinton responded, “You are kidding!” — though it’s an issue that’s been on her radar for a while now, Palmieri said.
“College affordability, access to college … [Clinton wants to make] it so people who have debt now can manage it better, but also for people going in, that it’s more affordable, and for parents who have high school-aged students, that there’s a more affordable path to it,” Palmieri said.
Republicans are hearing it too.
“There’s grave concern about education,” presidential candidate Carly Fiorina told the Hippo in a recent phone interview.
Fiorina’s press secretary says voters ask her about it frequently during campaign stops.
UNH political scientist Dante Scala says most candidates have been talking about the issue.
“I think it’s fair to say that student debt is already a hot or more salient [issue] than it has been in recent primaries,” Scala said “Even though Democrats and Republicans are addressing it, the Democratic plans certainly sound more ambitious. More costly, but also more ambitious.”
Scala says he doesn’t expect to see Republicans offer the same kinds of expansive government programs proposed by Democrats, but they have been talking about college cost.
“Republicans would much rather forego the college student vote, or at least the liberal or moderate college student vote. They’d rather forego that rather than being seen as big-government Republicans or high-spending Republicans,” Scala said.