LAS VEGAS, Oct. 14 (UPI) -- Three of the four Democratic presidential hopefuls -- Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley -- said in Tuesday's debate they want public universities and colleges to offer free tuition and called for major overhauls to the sputtering student loan system.
All three candidates stressed the importance of ensuring all Americans have access to higher education, not just those who can afford it. Front-runner Clinton and Vermont Sen. Sanders spent the most time promoting their plans.
Clinton, former secretary of state, called for a program that would encourage a "compact" between students and higher-education institutions offering free tuition in exchange for work, while Sanders wants to tax Wall Street transactions to make public colleges and universities free.
"A college degree today is the equivalent of what a high school degree was 50 years ago," Sanders said. "And what we said 50 years ago and a hundred years ago is that every kid in this country should be able to get a high school education regardless of the income of their family. I think we have to say that is true for everybody going to college."
Sanders and Clinton also want Congress to lower interest rates on federal student loans. Clinton, Sanders and O'Malley, former Maryland governor, want parents and students to be able to refinance federal student loans to lower interest rates.
College costs and student loans have become a talking point among Democrats and Republicans in the bid for the 2016 election. One in seven student loan borrowers default on their education loans within three years of beginning repayments. About $103 billion of the more than $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt is in default.