During a week-long conference held at Paramount Theatre, Virginia’s Republican statewide office candidates discussed the opportunity for change provided by the Trump administration and the role they want millennials to play in that change. The candidates addressed topics such as the immigration ban, millennials’ political skepticism and inflating tuition costs, significant concerns for the Republicans’ target audience. As much as these issues frequent the millennial mind, there is one concern which hasn’t been explicitly addressed: student debt. Out of all of these issues, student debt is the most encompassing problem to date. Finding a feasible solution to this problem should become a priority.
When the gubernatorial candidates were asked about college costs and tuition during the debate, the candidates generally agreed tuition costs need to be capped and that the state needs to answer to its constituents. State Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) even proposed that public universities should operate “within their budgets.” While Wagner’s suggestion seems promising, freezing tuition costs does not help the students which have already accumulated debt, and that is where millennials’ concerns lie.
In 2016, the average student graduated with over $35,000 in student loan debt. Sixty-three percent of respondents in a recent study said student debt has delayed their decision or ability to buy a home. Another 41 percent said student debt has made it difficult to manage daily expenses. Moreover, respondents reported that student debt influences their choice of employment. While millennials view college as a way to improve their own socioeconomic status and get their lives started on the right track, the burden of student debt hinders their ability to do so.
Statewide office candidates in Virginia should incorporate concrete proposals to counter the student debt crisis into their platforms. Although many candidates have acknowledged increasing student costs during their campaigns, this is insufficient in helping the growing population of college graduates with unmanageable student debt. If they want to win millennials’ vote, they must offer explicit solutions to this widespread problem.