Welcome to Campaign 2000. If there is any one issue that unites students across this University as well as around this nation, it ought to be higher education reform. While the pundits and the politicians love to sweep us up in rhetoric, it’s time for a reality check or rather, a history lesson. The two political parties in this election have taken widely different stances on higher education reform over the past eight years.
The current Democratic administration has consistently fought for students and increasing access to college for Americans around this country. In 1993 Vice President Al Gore cast the deciding vote on the 1993 Economic Plan that created the Direct Student Loan Program, giving more than 3.9 million students and parents direct loans. Not a single Republican voted for that bill. Additionally, the Clinton-Gore administration successfully fought for the largest single increase in investment to expand access to higher education since the G.I. Bill. That fight included the creation of HOPE scholarships, an increase of Pell Grants by 52 percent, a decrease in the interest rates in student loans, and the funding for Americorps, a program that has allowed more than 100,000 college students to earn money for college while doing community service.
Conversely, Republicans have fought this administration repeatedly, and had they succeeded, students would have paid a great price. In 1995, Vice President Gore fought Republican efforts to slash the Direct Student Loan Program. The Republican cuts would have depleted funding for student loans by more than $10 billion. In 1999, George W. Bush supported the Republican tax cut of $800 billion that would include cutting over $4.8 billion from Pell Grants displacing 784,000 students from their student loans.
Last week, a group of GW College Democrats heard Al Gore’s new proposals on higher education when he spoke at the University of Maryland. He talked about access to college and the importance of passing the College Opportunity Tax Cut that would give working families the chance to receive a tax credit of up to $10,000 for college tuition including graduate school. Gore outlined his plan to create savings accounts, called 401(j)s, that allow our employers as well as ourselves to contribute tax-free to accounts to pay for the college tuition of ourselves, our spouses and our children.
However, the Republicans have avoided specifics on this issue. Perhaps George W. Bush summarized the Republican position when he noted, Higher education is not my priority (San Antonio Express-News, March 22, 1998). Perhaps he demonstrated his conviction to that statement when he ignored higher education entirely during his 1999 State of the State address in Texas. One thing is for sure, students should not settle for empty rhetoric; we must stand up for real and substantive reforms.
Over the past eight years, students in this country have learned a very important lesson. Candidates from the Democratic party are not only talking about education but fighting for real higher education reform. The choice is clear and the choice is yours. Facing escalating tuition costs and the increasing need for a college education, we know the price we will pay if students don’t get involved in this election to fight for the party that has and will consistently stand up for real higher education reform.
Don’t let the politicians and pundits fool you into believing there is no difference between these two parties when it comes to students. In the immortal words of Public Enemy, Don’t believe the hype! Get involved as students, and show the nation that we have been paying attention. We are not about to be taught a costly lesson.
-The writer is president of the GW College Democrats and political affairs director of the College Democrats of America.