Loan system look like under President Trump

After months of reading the tea leaves, we will soon find out what a President Donald Trump will mean for families trying to afford college and borrowers coping with student loans.

But for the moment, that future remains uncertain. During the campaign, Trump criticized the cost of college and acknowledged the struggles that many student loan borrowers face, but offered few concrete policy proposals for addressing those challenges.

“If we woke up this morning and Hillary Clinton won, we had a very clear idea of her priorities on higher education, on college affordability, on student debt,” said Mark Huelsman, a senior policy analyst at Demos, a left-leaning think tank. “We could debate the merits of them, but it was a policy debate,” said Huelsman who authored an influential white paper laying out a proposal for debt-free college. “We’re waking up this morning and we do not know what a Trump administration would do in terms of existing higher education regulations,” he added.

The Republican nominee did provide a few hints on the campaign trail about the changes he would make to the student loan system. During a speech last month, Trump said he would cap federal student loan payments at 12.5% of borrowers’ income for a maximum of 15 years, a proposal that’s arguably more generous than the current system of several plans that federal student loan borrowers can use to manage their payments, according to Jason Delisle, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank.

That proposal, perhaps the most concrete Trump has offered on the issue of student loans, may have a shot at becoming reality, said Robert Kelchen, a professor higher education at Seton Hall University. Simplifying the system of income-driven repayment programs is a proposal that has bipartisan support, he said. Even Clinton included simplifying the federal student loan repayment system as a plank under her college affordability plan.

Kelchen said he will be watching who Trump appoints to the Department of Education, particularly in the position of undersecretary of education, which oversees higher education. Higher education policy “is something that Trump might be willing to delegate to his staff at the department,” Kelchen said. “They might put some more details on the skeleton of the income based repayment plan that he announced last month.”