Here's Why Students Were Big Winners in the Democratic Debate

Student debt and college affordability, top issues for young voters, got more attention during the first Democratic primary debate Tuesday night than they have in any 2016 primary debate so far.

While not all contenders agreed on the specifics of reforms, the issue was given prominent attention—a marked change from the previous Republican primary debates, at which student debt and college affordability garnered only passing mentions. Candidates' platforms included drastic cuts to the cost of college, reforms to student debt interest rates and refinancing options, and even rolling out free tuition at some schools.

The two top polling candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, both touted drastic, all-encompassing platforms, while other candidates floated more selective approaches, such as Martin O'Malley's plan to reduce interest rates on loans.

While Clinton and Sanders both favor huge reductions to the cost of college, they squared off on different approaches to solving the issue. Clinton has pushed for a federal incentive program that would guarantee "no-loan" tuition at public universities and community colleges. This cost would be covered by the federal government giving states money acquired by closing tax loopholes. Sanders would go further, making public universities free across the board and paying for it by taxing Wall Street.

All in all, the issue was addressed as it stands in the minds of many young voters: a national crisis.

With the graduating class of 2015 clocking in with the most average per-student debt in U.S. history—$35,051, according to recent analysis by the college costs and financial aid site Edvisiors.com—college affordability and student loans are crucial, everyday issues for young people.

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