Their plans are different and the road ahead could be challenging. But there’s one thing many Republicans and Democrats agree on: reducing (or removing) the amount of debt men and women have when they finish college is important.

Lawmakers in Iowa and nine other states launched a legislative push intended to make debt-free public college a priority of the 2016 election as well as a focal point for statehouses as they return for their 2016 sessions.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is advocating a three-pronged approach that includes funneling more federal aid to states, giving more financial help to students and finding ways to creatively contain costs. The committee modeled the state resolutions on a pair of resolutions that have been introduced in Congress.

Kayla Wingbermuehle, who’s directing the group’s campaign on debt-free college, said Monday that all three major Democratic presidential candidates are on board and “the progressive strategy now is to go deep, unifying the Democratic Party around debt-free college and ensuring that there’s an undeniable mandate in November of 2016.”

Iowa Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, said Democratic members of the House and Senate are discussing how to shape a plan that meets Iowa’s needs. He said it needs to be a topic of continued national discussion, too.

“In Iowa, like so many other states, cost of higher education is leaving students with a mountain of debt,” he said. “We’re also discussing it with presidential candidates to ensure it is a national conversation during the coming year. I believe debt-free college will be one of the top issues people think about when they vote in 2016 here in Iowa and elsewhere.”

Some Republican presidential candidates also are working on ways to reduce college debt. For example:

• John Kasich convened a task force on college affordability earlier this year. The group came back with recommendations to cut costs that included handing dorms and cafeterias over to private operators, collaborating on health care costs and providing more digital textbooks and study materials.

• Marco Rubio’s campaign website says the U.S. higher education system “is antiquated and broken in multiple ways.”

His platform calls to simplify incentives for students pursuing higher education, use income-based repayment for all federal loans, accommodate non-traditional programs by reforming accreditation standards and allow private investors to pay for students’ tuition in exchange for a share of their future income.

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• Chris Christie calls for giving students “flexibility and innovative tools to get the job done, while expanding access to tuition assistance,” according to his website.

He proposes focusing federal student assistance to those at the bottom while expanding income-share agreements and tax credits for other students.

He also calls on colleges to allow students to not pay for add-ons to tuition and to explore alternative education models.

Students across Iowa and beyond are leaving universities, colleges and technical programs with looming debt that could cripple them economically. It might not come the day after graduation, but years down the road.

We encourage further bipartisan efforts to help students across the country advance their knowledge and skills, while also being able to get out of college with a reasonable amount – if any at all – of debt.

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