Lots Of 2020 Candidates Are Talking About ‘Free College.’ Here’s What They’re Not Telling You

It has become a cliche of this campaign: A White House hopeful pauses from a speech to invite beleaguered university graduates to shout out the size of the debt they carry — as if competing in an auction — and the numbers bellowed from the crowd spiral upward.

In a nation where student loan debt has reached a staggering $1.6 trillion — more than double the amount just a decade ago — the call-outs are potent political theater. The promise of free college has catapulted from the fringe in 2015, when Sen. Bernie Sanders muscled the idea into presidential politics, to an urgent place in the race this year. Even President Trump is trying to get in front of it.

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