Gillespie calls for debt relief, jobs for college graduates

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RICHMOND, Va. — Republican senatorial candidate Ed Gillespie wants to ease the debt burden on college graduates by pushing an income-based payment system if elected on November 4. In an interview with VCU’s “iPadJournos” project, Gillespie supported his democratic opponent’s debt relief plan, but also pushed for a stronger focus on providing jobs for graduates to be able to manage their debt.

“I’ve looked at the broad approach of tying the student loan repayments to income levels and that makes sense to me,” said Gillespie. He agrees with incumbent Sen. Mark Warner that student debt relief should come in the form of income-based percentage payments and that “tying the student loan repayments to income levels” just “makes sense.”

“Just because you are running against somebody doesn’t mean that you have to disagree with every single thing,” said Gillespie in the interview on Monday. “We have plenty of things we disagree on, but this is an area where, actually, there is some common ground.”

Gillespie also said that he supports simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process for students and would loosen up “the monopoly on accreditation” in higher education to create more of a marketplace for colleges.

With more than $1 trillion in federally-held student loans and the debt constantly growing, both major party candidates are trying to to find a solution.

“It’s a big chunk in the economy right now that needs to be addressed,” Gillespie said. “The first thing is that we need to make it easier for people to find jobs and to get good paying jobs with which they pay back their student loans.”

Before the interview, Gillespie spoke with VCU journalism students at an event sponsored by the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture and the VCU Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Students asked Gillespie about issues such as the possibility of a minimum wage raise and his plans to “ease the squeeze” on student loan repayments.

VCU undergraduate Meghan Worsham asked Gillespie about his stance on raising the minimum wage in the interest of students facing an ever-rising mountain of student debt.

“As students, our debt is insane,” Worsham said in an interview after the event. “It’s insane.”

Gillespie said that raising the minimum wage would only serve to destroy more jobs, and that he would focus on creating new quality paying jobs. But for minimum wage earners, Gillespie proposed a different solution to keep them above the poverty line.

“I have put forward what’s called a wage enhancement or work incentive tax cut. That would come on a monthly basis, would be paid to someone who is earning a minimum wage in order to allow them to provide for their family and make ends meet,” he said.

Gillespie’s plan would augment the existing Earned Income Tax Credit and turn it into a monthly payment and thereby into an extra paycheck.

But for students like Worsham, minimum wage is only part of the concern. Tens of thousands of dollars in student debt are causing heavy financial strain for young voters to repay at high interest rates. For students like Worsham who are still in college, the clock is ticking.

“I’m expecting to get a minimum wage job by the time I graduate,” Worsham sain. “So how am I gonna have these insane loan payments that are hundreds of dollars when that’s how much I’m going to make in a month?”

Watch the full interview with Republican Senatorial Candidate Ed Gillespie:

Sen. Mark Warner’s campaign has been contacted by the “iPadJournos” project for an interview as well. An interview with Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis on higher education issues will be published later this week.

By Rachel Mahoney and Michael Melkonian (Special to

This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between and VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture.