Presidential hopeful Bill Richardson on Saturday said a portion of college loans should be forgiven if graduates complete a year of national service. “As part of your college loan structure – in other words we’ll pay them off, if you give your country one year of national service: work in a forest, clean up a forest, work in a hospital, go in the military, go in the Peace Corps, go in Vista,” he said. Richardson’s plan, which is still being developed, would give loan incentives for students who use their education to help their communities.

“For two or three of those years (of college debt), the government will pay off your loans, but you’ve got to give us a year of national service,” Richardson said.

He also said his plan would link incentives for nontraditional studies, including vocational schools and trade programs.

Richardson said not enough presidential candidates are talking about education.

“Nobody talks about education. It’s not at the top of the polls,” Richardson said. “I happen to think this is the most important issue facing our families, economic development and competitiveness.”

Richardson has proposed a national minimum wage for teachers, a complete repeal of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy and massive investment in schools.

A spokeswoman for fellow Democrat John Edwards said he is working to expand access as well.

Richardson hopes his aggressively anti-war message will help connect with voters in a state that ousted two congressmen in 2006.

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