College students are generally considered to be part of an “apathetic generation” when it comes to voting and political involvement. Whether you’re in that age bracket or not, students’ interests are affected by elections and their outcomes. The actual role of candidates can sometimes be clouded by the political campaigns themselves, but a Husky vote ought to go to a leader with higher education in mind as a priority.
National student loan debt has surpassed credit card debt, with 56% of Washington college students owing an average of more than $20,000. Both presidential candidates have put forward plans to lower student loan debt and the cost of tuition. President Obama claims that expanding tax credit for education and taking steps to keep student loan rates low are the keys to success. Opponent Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney believes that reforming financial aid and integrating private sector participation are the paths to keeping higher education accessible and reasonably priced.
The presidential candidates do agree on some topics. Both lobbied for Congress to maintain a 3.4% interest rate of subsidized Stafford loans for this year instead of raising it. They also both acknowledge that parents and students need clearer information about college costs, and that higher transparency will help people compare schools. Their tactics to get there, however, differ.
“To me, it doesn’t matter if someone’s Republican or Democratic. I need an affordable college education,” says Jenny Wang, who spent time reading into the campaign issues before deciding to support one candidate over the other.
President Obama coined a “Pay as You Earn” program, which will keep the amount of loan repayments at 10% of students’ monthly income, beginning at the end of this year. The White House’s higher education section of their website also claims that “millions of borrowers are now eligible to consolidate Direct Loans and FFEL Loans and save up to half a percentage point on their interest rate.”
Also, the President’s 2009 American Opportunity Tax Credit, which he says he will work to keep from expiring this year, aided up to $10,000 for college tuition to families who make less than $180,000 a year. This tax credit has supposedly helped millions of students afford to afford the cost of college. In February, the President also started an initiative called the “College Scorecard,” a summarized profile of institutions including pertinent loan repayment and graduation rates, as well as employment and post-graduation success numbers. This is to help students decide on the best college for themselves.
If elected for a second term, the President plans to reform “federal campus-based aid programs” by giving more aid priority to colleges who work harder to keep net tuition down and to more successfully help students in need. The Obama administration projects this will free up an annual $10 billion to be used to keep tuition as low as possible.
The Romney-Ryan ticket outlined a plan to reform higher education with several bullet points, such as focusing Pell Grant money toward only the neediest students and inviting private lenders into student loans. Loan repayment, graduation, and success rates along with other statistics will be provided to private sectors so they can “evaluate the risks of lending to students at these institutions, creating incentives for schools to focus on factors related to student success.”
Presidential candidate Romney’s education plan states that “[w]hen Washington puts more money into student aid programs to help families and individuals pay for higher education, colleges and universities raise tuition rates.”
Romney has come under scrutiny for making statements that don’t align with the education plan he’s released. A comparative article of the presidential candidates’ student aid plans by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administration (NASFAA) states: “Romney contradicts his statements during the debate that he would not cut education spending. It remains unknown exactly how Romney plans to maintain funding and also eliminate some programs.”
Urban Studies major Edward Miles believes that paying attention to the issues is better than voting blindly: “I would like to tell anyone voting to do their research. Some people don’t think it’s worth it, but if the wrong person gets elected, we might be paying way more than we can afford.”