With the prospect of widespread Democratic victories in the November mid-term elections, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced that her party would likely make higher education affordability a major priority if they take control of the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, it seems as if this announcement is merely an effort to politicize higher education as an empty campaign promise at a time when real action is needed on this issue.
Politicians frequently espouse their support for higher education financing, but most efforts to repair the current system have been cursory and inadequate. When the GOP pushed a plan to increase student loan interest rates, the Democrats’ only response was to slightly decrease the increase.
Higher education policy is about more than just loans and financing; it is an issue of national security. American colleges and universities are the purveyors of research and scholarship that routinely put the U.S. ahead of its economic and military rivals. These shortsighted political battles over a major issue affecting our economy and national security have done little to improve government policy on higher education.
Pelosi’s promise to target specific programs such as the Pell Grant awards, student loan interest rates and tuition tax deductibility underscores a continued focus on changing the individual aspects of a failed system without articulating a new direction.
The true winner in November will be the party that promotes a holistic plan for higher education, targeting affordability, access and funding to research areas in which the U.S. is falling behind other countries. Both parties will also be able to court more votes from concerned youngsters through such a broad-based agenda than by trying to fool college-age students with empty rhetoric.
College education is more than a campaign issue – it is integral to our nation’s economic strength and competitiveness in the global market. Rather than politicizing higher educations by proposing minor changes to existing programs, politicians should formulate plans for a comprehensive overhaul of the system that will ensure that all capable Americans can compete in an increasingly globalized world.