In the first two presidential debates, students have had only one chance to ask the candidates about the issues.
The lone voice representing the youth vote was 20-year-old Jeremy Epstein, a student at Adelphi University, who asked President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney at the second debate Tuesday how they could assure him he would be able to support himself financially after graduation.
Epstein’s question, the first of the debate, was quickly forgotten as the candidates scuffled. I couldn’t help but wonder how different the debate would be if Obama and Romney were asked that question in a room full of students. It would corner the candidates and force them to end the political posturing and provide more legitimate responses.
Given the uncertainty of the future, more students should have the opportunity to ask the candidates direct questions.
This uncertainty can be quantified by some scary numbers. Student loan debt has surpassed $1 trillion, and overall debt has increased by an astounding 511 percent from 1999 to the beginning of 2011, according to Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Despite this frightening reality, tuition continues to rise at both private and public universities.
And about 54 percent of graduates younger than 25 with a bachelor’s degree last year were either jobless or underemployed, according to the Associated Press.
Given these circumstances, students deserve the opportunity to directly ask Obama and Romney – in their own words – what they plan to do about the high cost of college tuition, the exorbitant amount of student loan debt and ask how this will affect their employment prospects in the future.
But in the debates so far, the candidates may as well have just said, “Create jobs, provide access to loans and make college affordable.” Those 10 words basically summed up about four minutes of dialogue.
As Epstein, the student who opened the debate with his question Tuesday night, pointed out in an Oct. 18 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the candidates acknowledged the question and then quickly moved on. But if confronted by a room full of indebted, jobless college students, the candidates might actually feel obliged to provide real answers, rather than just harping on the same trite ideas about the economy they have been touting for months.
These are not abstract questions that will only become relevant in a few decades. All of these issues are interconnected.
What affects students affects everyone. If the group that will carry the nation into the next generation is suffering, the country will ultimately suffer as a whole.
Whether or not we are saddled with extreme amounts of debt in the next few years will affect the growth of the economy and the economic decisions we make.
It is essential that college students are given a chance to weigh in. That’s why it’s a shame that having a youth-only debate is about as likely as Obama giving Romney a hug at Monday’s debate.
Students deserve to be an integral part of the discussion. It’s their future, and it wouldn’t hurt to amplify their voices.
Doug Cohen, a senior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet Senior columnist.