Presidential candidates have differing views on higher education
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012
Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 12:05
True to the very nature of politics, both President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney have made many promises on a number of issues in these months leading up to the 2012 presidential election, including policy on education that they would implement if elected into the highest office. The matter of education reform ranges from issues affecting grade schools, to problems affecting higher education, such as skyrocketing tuition.
Some students might find it difficult to make sense of each of the candidate’s platforms and to decide who truly represents their best interests.
“On student loans, Obama supports lower student loan interest rates through government,” said Kathleen Staudt, political science professor. “Romney supports private bank lending for student loans, with likely higher interest rates. Romney consistently supports private options over public options. UTEP is a public institution with support from Texas state government.”
According to education.com, Obama doubled funding for Pell Grants by placing the 2008 American Opportunity Tax Credit, which was a refundable credit that would ensure that the first $4,000 of college education is free for most students. Obama also switched from privately funded loan providers to public ones, which freed billions of dollars to be put towards Pell Grants and other post-secondary education grant programs.
During his first term, Obama fought to prevent federal student loan interest rates from doubling for more than seven million students, and capped federal student loan repayments at 10 percent of income. He claims that if Romney wins the election these acts will be rolled back.
“President Obama would be better for higher education in this country. It’s my understanding that he wishes to make college more affordable by lowering interest on government issued student loans,” said Jose Pineda, sophomore music major. “Plus he makes it easier to pay back our loans based on our annual income after college. He believes that a higher education should be a right that everyone has and that money should not get in the way of that. It is also my understanding that Romney wishes to either raise interest rates on student government loans or make the process of receiving loans much harder.”
As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney proposed the John and Abigail Adams scholarship, which provided four-year tuition-free state education to any Massachusetts student who graduated in the top 25 percent of their class. However, much of Romney’s presidential campaign when it comes to education focuses on grade school as opposed to higher education.
According to the Center for American Progress Fund, an independent nonpartisan organization, Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s budget plan to reduce the national deficit—which is a key part of Romney’s platform—shows that it would slash more than $15 billion of mandatory and discretionary funding from the Pell Grant program beginning next year. That is a 42 percent cut to Pell Grants. The budget claims that this is to ensure that the money is going to the truly needy.
However, although Romney has endorsed Ryan’s budget, his actual plan for higher education does not specifically say anything about slashing Pell Grants. Instead, his plan states he will “strengthen and simplify the financial aid system by giving students and families with financial need the appropriate information about completion and persistence, loan repayment, future earnings and other indicators to intelligently weigh the risks and benefits of the many options available to them.”
Maria Gonzalez, sophomore environmental science major, said politicians hardly ever fulfill their promises when it comes to education.
“I’m on the fence about who is the best when it comes to this issue because even though Romney doesn’t specifically say he’s going to cut funding for Pell grants and he says he wants to strengthen financial aid, if he follows Paul Ryan’s budget plan it would ultimately result in less financial aid for students like me who rely on it to go to school.”
Romney also relies heavily on the argument that during Obama’s term young people’s debt has risen and their chances of finding a job have declined. He draws attention to the fact that those graduating from high school and college over the last several years have faced one of the worst job markets in the nation’s history and more than half of all recent college graduates are unemployed.
Though the arguments are certainly mixed, people like Staudt believe it is still important to be informed and exercise the right to vote.
“I always vote in all elections and educational reform; (It) is important to me,” Staudt said. “People need to stay involved in between elections in order to engage in education reform. Democracy works most effectively when people in civil society provide voice and oversight for decisions that representatives make. Key educational decisions are made at the state and local levels; thus, students and parents ought to pay as much attention to state candidates and parties as they do the presidential election.”
For students who want to learn more about the presidential candidate’s stances on other key issues such as environmental conservation and the economy, the university bookstore is giving away free quick study guides that concisely outline both Obama’s and Romney’s platforms.
Rebecca Guerrero may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.