Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke in a town forum to University of Maine students at the Recreation and Fitness Center. Clinton discussed subjects ranging from health care to student loan reform Saturday morning.
“I am tired of hearing about young people who get shut out of college because they can’t afford it or their families can’t afford it,” Clinton said. “When I hear about families that mortgage their homes, sell their homes, go deeply into debt, put college expenses on credit cards and find themselves facing bankruptcy – I do not think a family in Maine should have to sell or mortgage their home or go into debt to send your child to college.”
Clinton proposed a cap on student interest rates and making more loans available through the government.
Clinton said she would help Maine students by increasing Pell grants and Hope scholarships. “We need to start making an investment in our young people again. I also want to provide two years of national service for any young person willing to do it, earn up to $10,000 a year – which would go directly into college expenses – and I especially want to help people who are graduating with so much debt, all of these Maine students with all of this debt. If you are willing to do a public service job like teaching or nursing or law enforcement, we will forgive your debt,” Clinton said.
The audience groaned when asked about their own student debt and high-interest student-loan rates, which one audience member said was almost 30 percent.
“Students are going deeply in debt,” Clinton said. “They are being taken advantage of by these student loan companies that, I believe, are practicing predatory lending. I want to end the student loan company’s monopoly, take them out of this business, get back to direct lending.”
Direct lending involves students borrowing money from the government instead of relying on third-party lenders. Clinton’s plan also calls for eliminating subsidies to these lenders.
Other college-geared plans for Clinton include expanding science programs, a statement met with standing applause. “I would also end President Bush’s war on science. This would be a very big deal for universities like this one.”
Clinton spoke about her universal healthcare plan, which she described as the only comprehensive plan proposed by her party. Her rival, Barack Obama, is proposing a plan that would not make health care mandatory for all individuals, as Clinton’s would, but which he considers simpler to access.
Clinton thanked Maine state representative Emily Cain for having “demonstrated the incredible importance of getting young people involved in politics. One of the consequences I hope that will come from this election this year is that more and more young people will decide that they too want to be involved.”
Both Cain and Governor John Baldacci introduced Clinton. “We’ve got to have someone who is ready to hit the ground running, we’ve got to have somebody who knows what to do when they take over and we’ve got so much that needs to be done,” Baldacci said. “I am so proud to have the opportunity to vote for a woman.”
UMaine’s President Robert Kennedy said, “We worried about how important we were in the national scene and I think we are seeing just how important we are. For our students, which is really the highlight for us today, it’s a wonderful experience for them to be involved with national politics and the electoral process. Our students are so engaged in that anyway that I knew that they would be excited about this.”
Lines started before 7 a.m. and wound to Somerset Hall. Hundreds of people were turned away. Some of those who were turned away got the chance to meet Clinton in an “eat and greet” event in Hilltop Commons.
“I think they [students] have felt very strongly about the direction of this country over the past year. It has been young people who I talk to that go overseas who say ‘maybe our country is not as well liked as it used to be,’” Baldacci said.
Eryk Salvaggio contributed to this report.