Marissa Fretes: Policy, not rhetoric, will bring students to the polls

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Marissa Fretes

When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he knew he had the support of young voters.

But this time around, voters seem to have lost their enthusiasm, and the president must prove to college students – who turned out in droves to support him last time – that in his second term he will take tangible steps to address mounting tuition costs and the looming student debt crisis.

College-aged supporters who voted and campaigned for Obama four years ago have now graduated college and have attempted to navigate the job market during the economic downturn. Student debt is a very real concern, especially at GW, where the average student graduated with $32,500 in debt in 2010, according to the Project on Student Debt.

In his speech at the Democratic National Convention, the president identified the problem facing students but offered little about how he would fix it.

“Help us work with colleges and universities to cut in half the growth of tuition costs over the next 10 years,” he said.

He added, “I don’t believe that firing teachers or kicking students off financial aid will grow the economy or help us compete with the scientists and engineers coming out of China.”

The president is right to point out the difficulties facing young people, and he is right that we need to work to be more competitive internationally. But then again, he fails to outline any practical solutions for these national issues.

Similarly, earlier this year, he described a plan to withhold federal funding from universities that are not working to curb tuition costs and that don’t meet certain requirements like job placement. As nice as it sounded, it lacked the necessary details and figures that would reassure voters in a consistently gridlocked political climate.

Last spring, Obama urged students to call Congress to keep the Stafford Loan rates from doubling. It was an admirable step to enact policies to support his views on education. Students need to see more of that.

As young people, we are tired of campaign promises. We want to hear real policy plans. And we want answers. What specifically can be done about the state of tuition costs? How will you solve the student debt crisis? What will you do to jumpstart the economy and job market to ease our job searches?

College students are tired of promises of hope and change. And while these speeches help fuel the 24-hour news cycle, they lack substance.

The president’s problem is not that young voters do not support him. A Gallup poll released Sept. 9 from earlier this month put Obama ahead by 59 to 33 percent among young voters.

But Obama is still facing an uphill battle. It is not that young voters have turned their backs on the president, but rather that getting them to vote on election day will likely prove more difficult this election year.

Young voters, who are notorious for low turnout, are predicted to have an especially weak year. The same Gallup poll in September showed that only 62 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 say they’re “definitely voting,” 18 points below the national percentage of definite voters. Here’s the bottom line: If Obama wants the support from our demographic that he had in the last election, he’s going to have to get more specific when it comes to issues like student debt, tuition and the state of the economy. This time around, policy, not rhetoric, will bring young voters to the polls.

Marissa Fretes, a sophomore majoring in English, is a Hatchet columnist.

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