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Across Party Lines

Presidential campaigns share financial aid advice
University Business, September 2012
Greater access and better outcomes are needed in higher education, agreed James Kvall (Obama for America)(middle) and Scott Fleming (Romney for President) (left), as they spoke with NASFAA President Justin Draeger.

With the presidential election campaign heating up, it’s not just jobs and the economy worth paying attention to. Financial aid administrators from 900 institutions in all 50 states got a glimpse into how their niche would be affected by both presidential candidates when James Kvall, policy director for Obama for America, and Scott Fleming, an education policy advisor for Romney for President, spoke at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) national conference in Chicago in July.

Despite bumping heads on a number of ideas, the candidates agree there needs to be an improvement in higher education access and student success, shares Fleming. The differences, he says, lay in the candidates’ opinions on how to get there—and, not surprisingly, how much the federal government should regulate the financial aid industry.

“We do need to be frugal, but at the same time, the federal government does have a role in promoting opportunity for students,” said Kvall, pointing out Obama’s belief in the need to fund research and reforms for states and institutions to make the higher education system work better for students and tax payers. “I think you’d be hard pressed to find any president who has responded more aggressively to the questions of debt and affordability than this one,” he added.

Kvall noted that Obama believes in the need to permanently increase Pell funding, as well as to double the number of work-study slots over five years, making those jobs more relevant to students’ careers. He’s also interested in allotting $1 billion per year to work with states that are willing to adopt reforms to boost completion rates.

On the opposite side of the fence on spending, Fleming pointed out that it currently takes $443 billion to service the nation’s debt each year. “We are spending more money than we take in and we’re doing it at a rate that is unprecedented historically,” he said. “That is not a trajectory that is going to improve [federal] financial aid.”

One issue both candidates also feel strongly about is the need for financial literacy, and that a lack of it has contributed to the high default rates among student loan borrowers.

“There’s a lot that can be done to help young people and people of all ages learn about their financial commitments,” said Kvall.

Fleming believes programs beginning in at least the middle school level need to focus on financial literacy. He applauded the private sector companies working to improve offerings in schools.