Education in Election 2012: Higher Education

This post is part of this week’s “Education in Election 2012” series, exploring the differences between the parties and presidential candidates on education policy.

Today, we’ll take a look at where the presidential campaigns and parties stand–in their own words–on how to improve college costs and accessibility:

President Barack Obama:

  • Set a goal to cut tuition growth in half over the next decade with a plan to expand student aid and work with states and colleges to keep tuition growth down
  • Capped repayments on federal student loans at 10% of income – see how the President’s plan is helping students afford college
  • Established the American Opportunity Tax Credit which helped 9.4 million students and families in 2011 afford higher education and doubled funding for Pell Grants so more Americans can afford college
  • Invested $2 billion in community colleges and proposed forging new partnerships between community colleges and employers to train 2 million workers for jobs that already exist

Governor Mitt Romney:

America’s traditional community and four-year colleges are the heart of our nation’s higher education system.  However, a flood of federal dollars is driving up tuition and burdening too many young Americans with substantial debt and too few opportunities.  Meanwhile, other models of advanced skills training are becoming ever more important to success in the American economy, and new educational institutions will be required to fill those roles. Mitt’s reforms spur the access, affordability, innovation, and transparency needed to address all of these challenges:

  • Strengthen And Simplify The Financial Aid System.
  • Welcome Private Sector Participation Instead Of Pushing It Away.
  • Replace Burdensome Regulation With Innovation And Competition.

Republican Party Platform:

College costs, however, are on an unsustainable trajectory, rising year by year far ahead of overall inflation. Nationwide, student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt, roughly $23,300 for each of the 35,000,000 debtors, taking years to pay off. Over 50 percent of recent college grads are unemployed or underemployed, working at jobs for which their expensive educations gave them no training. It is time to get back to basics and to higher education programs directly related to job opportunities.

The first step is to acknowledge the need for change when the status quo is not working. New systems of learning are needed to compete with traditional four-year colleges: expanded community colleges and technical institutions, private training schools, online universities, life-long learning, and work-based learning in the private sector. New models for acquiring advanced skills will be ever more important in the rapidly changing economy of the twenty-first century, especially in science, technology, engineering, and math. Public policy should advance the affordability, innovation, and transparency needed to address all these challenges and to make accessible to everyone the emerging alternatives, with their lower cost degrees, to traditional college attendance.

Federal student aid is on an unsustainable path, and efforts should be taken to provide families with greater transparency and the information they need to make prudent choices about a student’s future: completion rates, repayment rates, future earnings, and other factors that may affect their decisions. The federal government should not be in the business of originating student loans; however, it should serve as an insurance guarantor for the private sector as they offer loans to students. Private sector participation in student financing should be welcomed. Any regulation that drives tuition costs higher must be reevaluated to balance its worth against its negative impact on students and their parents.

…Ideological bias is deeply entrenched within the current university system. Whatever the solution in private institutions may be, in State institutions the trustees have a responsibility to the public to ensure that their enormous investment is not abused for political indoctrination. We call on State officials to ensure that our public colleges and universities be places of learning and the exchange of ideas, not zones of intellectual intolerance favoring the Left.

Democratic Party Platform:

To help keep college within reach for every student, Democrats took on banks to reform our student loan program, saving more than $60 billion by removing the banks acting as middlemen so we can better and more directly invest in students. To make college affordable for students of all backgrounds and confront the loan burden our students shoulder, we doubled our investment in Pell Grant scholarships and created the American Opportunity Tax Credit worth up to $10,000 over four years of college, and we’re creating avenues for students to manage their federal student loans so that their payments can be only 10 percent of what they make each month.

President Obama has pledged to encourage colleges to keep their costs down by reducing federal aid for those that do not, investing in colleges that keep tuition affordable and provide good value, doubling the number of work-study jobs available to students, and continuing to ensure that students have access to federal loans with reasonable interest rates.

We invested more than $2.5 billion in savings from reforming our student loan system to strengthen our nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Alaska, Hawaiian Native Institutions, Asian American and Pacific Islander Institutions, and other Minority Serving Institutions. These schools play an important role in creating a diverse workforce, educating new teachers, and producing the next generation of STEM workers.

We Democrats also recognize the economic opportunities created by our nation’s community colleges.
That is why the President has invested in community colleges and called for additional partnerships between businesses and community colleges to train two million workers with the skills they need for good jobs waiting to be filled, and to support business-labor apprenticeship programs that provide skills and opportunity to thousands of Americans. The President also proposed to double key investments in science to educate the next generation of scientists and engineers, encourage private sector innovation, and prepare at least 100,000 math and science teachers over the next decade.

And to make this country a destination for global talent and ingenuity, we won’t deport deserving young people who are Americans in every way but on paper, and we will work to make it possible for foreign students earning advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to stay and help create jobs here at home.

Check back tomorrow for our final post in the Education in Election 2012 Series, when we’ll compare the candidates’ and parties’ positions on K-12 education.

Alex Hunt

About Alex Hunt

Alex Hunt is the Yale & Irene Rosenberg Graduate Fellow at the Center for Children, Law & Policy. Alex graduated from the University of Texas in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in government. Before entering law school, he taught middle school math at YES Prep Southwest in Houston with Teach For America. In 2010, he received New Leaders' EPIC Spotlight Teacher Award, a national award for teachers with outstanding student growth. Alex graduated cum laude from the University of Houston Law Center in May 2013. During law school, Alex was Casenotes & Comments Editor for the Houston Journal of International Law, interned for both state and federal judges, and served as Vice President of the Health Law Organization (HLO). In addition, Alex has received the Irving J. Weiner Memorial Scholarship Award (for a year of outstanding work in the UH Law Center Legal Clinic), the Napoleon Beazley Defender Award (for outstanding work on behalf of children), the Ann Dinsmore Forman Memorial Child Advocacy Award, the Mont P. Hoyt Memorial Writing Award for an Outstanding Comment on a Topic in International Law, and he was a finalist for Texas Access to Justice's Law Student Pro Bono Award.

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