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Coming soon: Hillary Clinton's student debt plan

Hillary Clinton will roll out a detailed plan to tackle student debt, an issue that is quickly gaining steam in the emerging Democratic presidential primary.
Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hands with supporters after addressing the Women in the World Conference on April 23, 2015 in New York City.
Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hands with supporters after addressing the Women in the World Conference on April 23, 2015 in New York City.

Hillary Clinton will soon roll out a detailed plan to tackle student loan debt, an issue that is quickly gaining steam in the emerging Democratic presidential primary, her campaign tells msnbc.

Clinton has been under pressure from liberals to address the issue in the face of rising debt loads, with many hoping she will embrace the idea of debt-free college education. Her campaign says she will, but specifics will have to wait.

"Hillary Clinton has fought to make college affordable and accessible throughout her career -- from expanding student loans, to lowering college costs. As she talked about in Iowa, the crisis of student loan debt is even slowing small business creation and innovation. During our ramp up period, she is discussing ideas like this and, in the months ahead, she will roll out her detailed plan to tackle big issues like this one,” said Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson, when asked about debt-free college.

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The issue of college affordability is increasingly joining traditional Democratic issues as a priority for current and aspiring party leaders. President Obama in January proposed making community college free to many, while some Democrats in Congress want to make a four-year degree available to more students without debt.

“When it comes to making college affordable, I’m hopeful that debt-free college is the next big idea,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, the presumptive future leader of the party in the Senate, said recently when he signed onto one proposal.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has of late put the issue at the center of his potential presidential campaign. On Friday, he sent a fundraising email to supporters touting his plan for debt free college. “It's outrageous that we can figure out a way to bail out big banks, but we can't figure out a way to make college affordable,” he wrote.

And he published an op-ed in the Washington Post last week touting his work in Maryland on student loan debt. “In Maryland, we saw these trends and refused to give up. We froze tuition at public four-year institutions while making investments in universities, community colleges and financial aid,” he wrote.

On the federal level, O’Malley called on Congress to allow students to refinance their debt and to cap monthly payments, along with several other proposals.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is likely to decide on a presidential run as a Democrat as soon as this week, will deliver a speech on the topic Tuesday night at the historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile in Congress, members of the House and Senate introduce two resolutions calling on “all students [to] have access to debt-free higher education.”

Eight senators have signed on to the effort, sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz, including Schumer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Sen. Corey Booker.

On Tuesday, two more senators joined -- Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Sherrod Brown.

“Student loan debt is hurting our economy by pinching household budgets and limiting the ability of graduates to start a business, buy a home, or even start a family.  It’s time to make debt-free college a reality again,” Whitehouse said.

In the House, an identical resolution has 33 co-sponsors. They include Rep. Bobby Scott, the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, and Reps. Steve Israel and Chris Van Hollen, who are close to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

College debt is on the rise, according to the Princeton Review. Nearly 60% of students who graduated with a four-year bachelor’s degree in 2012-2013 took out loans, and they left $27,300 in debt, on average. That’s a 20% jump from the 2002-2003 average.

So far, advocates have yet to coalesce around a detailed policy for debt-free college. The congressional resolutions are general statements of principle rather than detailed legislation.

But a white paper co-authored by the liberal think tank Demos and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a leading group on this issue in Congress, offers some ideas. The paper proposes boosting aid to states and students, as well as making the underlying cost of college more affordable. That last goal is the thorniest, but the paper proposes a combination of accountability measures and innovation that it says could lower costs.

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On the campaign trail, Clinton has said she supports Obama’s free community college plan. And she conducted two of her four formal campaign events thus far at community colleges in Iowa and New Hampshire.

"We create vicious circles of debt for our youngest citizens who should be at the forefront of shaping the economy for tomorrow,” Clinton said at the New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord last week.

In Iowa, she heard from a man starting a bowling center who said his student loan debt made it difficult for him to secure financing for his business. It was a connection Clinton said she had never thought of before.

It’s not a new issue for Clinton, who on the campaign trail of her first presidential run was known to ask people to shout out their interest rates on student loans. She called for the creation of a “student borrower’s bill of rights,” and said loan companies were "ripping off" students.

But, as with much of Clinton’s policy ideas, advocates will have to wait on details.