McCain, Obama plan to improve higher education funding

| News Editor

With students applying for federal financial aid assistance in record numbers this year, the financial fate of college students may be impacted by who the next president of the United States will be.

After the vice presidential debate on Thursday, representatives from both parties confirmed that increased access to higher education will be a top priority for their presidential candidates.

In addition to making federal aid programs easier to comprehend for parents, as well as supporting Pell Grants—the federal government’s leading college aid program—Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama plans to create the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which would pay for the first $4,000 of a college student’s tuition in exchange for 100 hours of community service.

The plan would also pay for roughly two-thirds of a typical public university’s tuition and make community college free for most students.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination this election cycle, said that education would be a prominent focus in the Illinois senator’s presidency.

“This would be a major priority,” Richardson told Student Life after the vice presidential debate on Thursday. “The cornerstone of the Obama-Biden proposal is scholarship for every student—$4,000 in exchange for one year for community service.”

Republican nominee John McCain’s higher education plan is focused on simplification. If elected, McCain would simplify higher education tax benefits and the federal financial aid process by consolidating programs.

The Arizona senator also plans to eliminate earmarks to promote research funding and wants to reform the private lending industry to make private loans simpler and more effective.

“[McCain] has always had an interest in education issues,” Frank Donatelli, deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee, said. “He believes very strongly in K-12 choice and education. He favors a greater variety of assistance to college students to enable parents to send their children through college.”

For sophomore Sydney Sherman, education is a critical issue that she believes both candidates should emphasize in their campaigns.

“In order to have a better economy and society, in a few years we need to have more educated people who get can get better jobs and run the system,” Sherman said.

In order to meet the record demand for federal financial aid, the Pell Grants program may need up to $6 billion in additional taxpayer money next year, according to a recent New York Times article. The Department of Education said that the next president would struggle with financing the shortfall of Pell Grants.

But Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, who spoke to students in Edison Theatre on Thursday, said that repairing Pell Grants would not be enough to fix the college tuition crisis.

“We’re not going to be able to patch this up by simply fixing Pell Grants,” the former Vermont governor said. “The Republicans cut Pell Grants, and when we took over [Congress] in ’06, we put the Pell Grants back to where they were. But in the long term, as long as you’re in an industry where the rate of tuition [increase] goes up at twice the rate of inflation…you can’t keep up, and neither can Pell Grants.”

Richardson acknowledged the current shortfall of higher education funds and said that Obama would work to remedy the situation.

“In other words, [Obama-Biden] will fund the Pell Grant program, the work-study program and the [American Opportunity Tax Credit] scholarship,” Richardson said.

Despite the current troubled state of the economy, Richardson said that Obama would still be able to fund his higher education plans by reordering priorities.

Although college campus tend to have liberal leanings, surrogates for both parties said that college-aged students are significant constituents, and if elected, their candidates would ensure that the college voice is heard.

Linda Douglass, a senior strategist for the Obama campaign, said that Obama is running a grassroots campaign that will involve politics in people’s every day lives, including in the lives of young people.

“The whole theory of this campaign is that the power should come from the grassroots up,” Douglass said. “You involve people whether it is in energy conservation, whether it is in improving school, whether it is in thinking through ways to have more green energy [or] whether it is new ways to plan transportation. There are a lot of ways in which you can involve people in their everyday lives.”

Although McCain has not been as successful in grabbing the youth vote as Obama has, Donatelli said that the McCain education proposals would prove to be beneficial for the young generation.

“Sen. McCain has always had a special affection for young people. He draws energy from the energy of young people,” Donatelli said. “Young people have a friend with a McCain and Palin administration.”

With additional reporting by Puneet Kollipara

John McCain’s Higher Education Policy

• Simplify Higher Education Tax Benefits

McCain believes that the existing tax benefits are too complicated, and many eligible families don’t claim them. By simplifying the existing benefits, he hopes to ensure that a greater number of families have a lower tax burden when they are helping to send their children to college.

• Simplify Federal Financial Aid

McCain believes too many programs and a complicated application process deter many eligible students from seeking student aid. He hopes that consolidating programs will help simplify the administration of these programs, and help more students have a better understanding of their eligibility for aid.

• Fix the Student Lending Programs

John McCain has proposed an expansion of the lender-of-last resort capability of the federal student loan system and will demand the highest standard of integrity for participating private lenders. Effective reforms and leveraging the private sector will ensure the necessary funding of higher education aspirations, and create a simpler and more effective program in the process.

Barack Obama’s Higher Education Policy

• Create the American Opportunity Tax Credit

Obama and Biden will make college affordable for all Americans by creating a new American Opportunity Tax Credit. This universal and fully refundable credit will ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans, and will cover two-thirds the cost of tuition at the average public college or university.

• Simplify the Application Process for Financial Aid

Obama and Biden will streamline the financial aid process by eliminating the current federal financial aid application and enabling families to apply simply by checking a box on their tax form, authorizing their tax information to be used, and eliminating the need for a separate application.

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