Pictured above is Ed Gillespie speaking at the CPAC in Maryland in 2014.

During the ongoing Virginia governor election, Ed Gillespie has stated that if elected governor of Virginia, he’ll turn the state into the “Opportunity Capital” of the nation. One of the ways he promised to do this is focusing on lowering the high cost of college tuition. However in recent news, critics of Gillespie’s have expressed doubts about his credibility on the subject, bringing up conflicts of interest.

Over ten years ago, Gillespie ran a lobbying firm called Quinn Gillespie & Associates. The firm represented several clients from the student loans industry, including Nelnet and Bank of America. Nelnet currently manages a portion of the government’s $1.4 trillion student loan portfolio, and the company is profiting from student loans through federal contract.

On another occasion, Quinn Gillespie pushed Congress to get rid of legislation that was aimed at lowering the cost of college tuition. The bill originally proposed taking money that had been given to private lenders and using it instead to fund grants for low-income college students. The lobbying firm’s efforts were unsuccessful, and the bill passed.

Critics say these developments raise questions about Gillespie’s commitment to making college more affordable. Critics like Maggie Thompson, executive director of Generation Progress Action, expressed concerns that Gillespie’s ties to Nelnet could hurt efforts to have the state regulate student loan servicers.

Gillespie has never officially stated his position on having student loans companies regulated by the state; however, the issue of lowering college tuition has played an important role in Gillespie’s bid for governor. In his campaign announcement, he blamed "constant tuition hikes and rampant spending" for making college unaffordable for many people.

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On his website, Gillespie promises to offer a wider range of affordable alternatives and to make funding options readily available to students and parents. He also promises to expand online learning and community college transfer programs. Gillespie wants colleges to place more emphasis on helping students land good jobs after graduation. And if elected, he promises to create partnerships between colleges and businesses for internships and job opportunities.

Ralph Northam, Gillespie’s Democratic opponent for governor, is also committed to tackling student loan issues. He is urging the legislature to create a student loan bill of rights and to strengthen the education system. Northam has also questioned Gillespie’s commitment to making student loans more affordable.

With the recent rollbacks on federal student loan regulations, many people are focused on finding ways to regulate student loan servicers through the state. And they worry that Gillespie’s ties to companies like Nelnet could hurt any efforts to regulate student loan companies.

Increasingly, states are taking action to hold student loan servicers more accountable. Student loan servicers must be licensed to operate in California, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C., and more states are starting to try and follow suit. In Virginia, efforts have been made at obtaining similar legislation, but they stalled in committees. Failure to obtain a license could put a servicer out of business. This is an interesting fact when considering some politicians’ investment in the student loan servicing industry.