The skyrocketing cost of higher education is a major concern for American families planning to send their children to college, but the subject of university affordability arose only once during the three debates between presidential nominees Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and John McCain, R-Ariz.
Both candidates have referenced higher education issues in speeches on the campaign trail and in advertisements across the country, but there has otherwise been little discussion on the matter. During his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, McCain called college affordability the “the civil rights issue of the 21st century.”
Obama also spoke of the importance of higher education while accepting his party’s nomination, referencing his and his wife’s Ivy League educations.
“Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education,” Obama said. “And I will not settle for an America where some kids don’t have that chance.”
While the candidates spent most of the debates discussing their policies on the financial crisis, heath care or the Iraq War, many college students are beginning to wonder how they will pay for next semester.
The cost of higher education averaged $29,026 a year for private universities this school year. GW’s tuition and required costs amount to $50,357 – among the highest in the country. In the last decade total costs rose 27 percent nationwide, according to the non-profit College Board.
In addition, families are facing tighter budgets as the credit market is freezing, making student loans and financing harder to come by.
“The skyrocketing costs of college tuition has limited access to higher education,” said senior James Jones, GW College Democrats political affairs director. “At a time when post-secondary education is the only way to attain a high-quality and high paying job, Senator Obama understands the problem this poses for students, families, and the nation.”
Junior Brandon Hines, public relations director for the GW College Republicans, said his candidate will also tackle rising costs.
“John McCain wants to make sure that everyone still has a chance to receive higher education by making sure costs are affordable to students,” Hines said. “He is really going to take an approach to make sure people can get the money they need.”
The financial aid application process
When it comes to the complex process of financial aid, both Obama and McCain support simplifying the process for students and families.
“Too many programs and a complicated application process deter many eligible students from seeking student aid,” McCain’s Web site states. “Consolidating programs will help simplify the administration of these programs.”
Obama also plans to “simplify” and “streamline” the Free Application for Federal Student Aid process by adding a box to tax forms that families could check to apply for financial aid. This will “eliminate the current student aid form,” according to Obama’s Web site.
Applying for financial aid is not the only higher education reform some college students are seeking. Many students fear that federal loans might become too expensive or unattainable with the unstable market.
McCain “generally backs greater federal funding of Pell grants and government low interest loans to help students afford college,” but wants to see participating private lenders held to the “highest standard” of integrity, according to his Web site.
As for Obama, his Web site notes that the first bill he co-signed as a senator was the 2007 Hope Fund Act, which aimed to cut interest rates for loans in half to 3.1 percent. The bill also aimed to raise the Pell Gant maximum to $5,400 by 2012 – a theory McCain supports. Both McCain and Obama missed the final vote on Hope.
Much of the discourse this election year has revolved around taxes and the debate over higher education is no different.
Obama said Americans with children in universities will receive a special tax credit consideration that would “put a college education within reach of every American,” according to his Web site.
The Obama tax credit would give up to $4,000 dollars per year for tuition and expenses to any student who participates in community service. This would pay for “Two-thirds of the cost of tuition at the average public colleges or university,” according to Obama’s Web site.
McCain said he does not want expand this tax credit, but does see the need to simplify the existing benefits so eligible families can claim then.