6th District candidates don't back free college tuition plan

U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam is calling Hillary Clinton's plan to provide free college tuition to middle-class families "a unicorn."

His Democratic opponent in the Nov. 8 election - Amanda Howland of Lake Zurich - also has serious doubts about the proposal from her party's presidential nominee.

"I wish we could have free everything, but that's just not realistic," Howland said.

The candidates in the 6th Congressional District race talked about the cost of higher education during separate endorsement sessions with the Daily Herald.

Both were asked about Clinton's plan to make tuition free for in-state students who attend a public college or university. To qualify, the students would have to come from families earning less than $125,000 a year.

"I think it's a unicorn," said Roskam, a 55-year-old Wheaton Republican. "I don't even understand with $20 trillion in debt the notion of free."

Howland, who is a College of Lake County Board trustee, said she doesn't see how the government could afford a free tuition plan right now.

"More importantly, what we need to do is bring down the cost - the rising cost - of college," the 63-year-old attorney said.

In addition, Howland said something must be done to reduce the interest rates people are paying on their student loans.

"Having your hands tied coming out of school with debt and essentially paying a mortgage because of student debt - and not being able to pay for anything else - is not helping our economy," she said.

Roskam said part of the problem is colleges and universities increase tuition because they know students can borrow more money to make up the difference.

"There's a trillion dollars in student loan debt that's out there - just a crushing number," Roskam said. "And the schools have done what? They've gotten more and more and more expensive."

Roskam said higher education institutions must be reformed and changed.

In the meantime, Howland said foundations at a number of community colleges in Illinois are paying the tuition for students who qualify for financial help.

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