TWELVE MONTHS FROM NOW AMERICANS will be going to the polls to choose the next president. Smart voters do their research in advance, trying to determine the candidates' stance on issues that are important to them. If you want to know where a candidate stands on Iraq, gun control, gay marriage, or stem cell research, no problem. Just visit their website or search the news and you'll find all you need to know about these meat-and-potato issues. But, if your particular issue is higher education, your task may be harder to accomplish. When educators are warily eyeing the work of the Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which could result in some far-reaching changes, trying to find the candidates' position on issues of access, accountability, and affordability is often an exercise in futility. The plans, when they exist, are often vague and short on details of how they would work.
For example, Democrat John Edwards has outlined a national "College for Everyone" plan to provide two million students with scholarships to cover their first year at a public college. In exchange, they would be obligated to work part time in college and to take college preparatory classes in high school. The plan has been successful on a smaller scale in a pilot program that took place in North Carolina, but Edwards thinks it is something the country would support. "If we as a nation commit that this is at the top of the list, then the lack of money won't be an issue," he said.
The plans, when they exist, are vague and short on details.
Republican candidate Mitt Romney said he would link financial aid to the jobs students pursue after graduation. But again, he has been vague on details. "I like the idea of linking the level of support that we're able to provide to young people going to college to the contributions they're going to make to our society," he has said. What he hasn't said is what he considers a greater contribution to society-the doctors or lawyers who will potentially be the bigger breadwinners, or the social workers who often have to drop their chosen career because the salary isn't enough to help repay education loans.
Democrat Barrack Obama has been talking about overhauling the aid system by eliminating the middleman between the federal government and students seeking loans. "Private lenders are costing America's taxpayers more than 15 million dollars every day and provide no additional value except to the banks themselves. I think the system needs to be fixed."
While few would argue with that sentiment, critics say his plan limits the choice of how and where students can finance their education.
Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton has outlined several plans such as simplifying the FAFSA form and creating a $3,500 tuition tax credit. As a senator, Clinton co-sponsored the College Quality, Affordability, and Diversity Act, which would allow borrowers to refinance their school loans, just as they would refinance their home mortgage to take advantage of lower interest rates and eliminate origination fees. She also introduced the Non-Traditional Student Success Act, which would triple the maximum Pell Grant to $12,600 and allow students to receive the funds year-round.
Republican Rudolf Giuliani has announced no higher education plans to date, but both critics and supporters recall his dealings with the City University of New York when he was that city's mayor. Giuliani ended open enrollment and raised admissions standards, a move that many said would shut out low-income and minority students. However, the university recorded a 10.5 percent increase in admissions in the succeeding four years, and almost no change in minority enrollment.
As the candidates continue their seemingly endless round of "debates" and town hall forums, the mainstream media-and the public-should be asking for specifics on their higher education plans.
Write to Tim Goral at email@example.com.