Staff Editorial: Higher education needs government support

This election season, the role that the federal government plays in higher education is at stake.

Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., will square off Thursday at this year’s vice presidential debate. And while the performance of the candidates is unlikely to sway the election in either direction, the audience will get a chance to see the two competing philosophies and their parties’ approaches to solving the problems that plague higher education.

But the GOP platform is out of step with the realities facing students in this election.

As a member of Congress, Ryan proposed an economic plan which called for significant funding cuts to education. And by asking Ryan to be his vice presidential candidate, Mitt Romney has signaled to the public that he shares Ryan’s visions, priorities and values on education. If they take the White House, the GOP has plans to cut education funding by 5 percent – a fact Romney denied at the first presidential debate.

Republicans take the position that education should be funded through the private sector, making it more difficult for students to receive federal grants and loans to pay for college. Effectively, the Romney-Ryan ticket discourages getting a college education.

By making it harder for students to pay for education, the GOP suggests that a college degree is not important. The fact of the matter is that a college education is increasingly becoming a critical component in finding success in America today. But Romney’s comments about his views on education are startling, to say the least. In his view, “Flooding colleges with federal dollars only serves to drive tuition higher,” according to Romney’s campaign policy paper on education.

Statements like this indicate Romney’s disconnect with reality. He doesn’t seem to understand that, by making it harder to receive student loans, it would be more difficult for many to afford college. He doesn’t seem to really believe education should be a priority for the majority of Americans.

Ryan’s plan would drastically shrink the number of students who would be eligible to receive Pell Grants. These grants are one of the ways the government can help fund college for those who cannot afford to pay increasingly expensive tuition costs. And realistically, cutting federal funding in this respect will limit the number of students who will be able to attend college.

Ryan’s plan would also cut funding for elementary and secondary schools. And while, upon first glance, it seems as though these budget cuts will not affect college students, cuts to education anywhere hinder students everywhere.

During President Barack Obama’s term, he has worked – despite pressure and blowback from Congress – to make education a priority through consistent federal funding. For instance, he created a tax credit for college students that could add up to $10,000 in savings over their collegiate careers. And unlike Congressional Republicans like Ryan, Obama has advocated to maintain the Federal Pell Grant and Stafford loan systems – not destroy them.

For the past four years, the government has shown a vested interest in the finances of college students. If Romney and Ryan took office, there would likely be less concern shown toward students and their finances.

It should be the role of the federal government to work to help students afford college. Under a Romney and Ryan administration, students would be treated more like the perpetrators of the financial crisis than its victims. Romney has to realize that students didn’t create the financial mess that plagues the state of higher education. They didn’t ask for student loans, debt or a difficult job market after college. But they do expect their public servants to help them work through their difficulties.

And leaders from both parties should oblige them.

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