Four years ago, a noticeable energy spread throughout college campuses in the United States. Students everywhere radiated excitement about the upcoming historical 2008 presidential election between Barack Obama and John McCain, and the eligible voter turnout rate exceeded 61%, the highest turnout rate since 1964.
This excitement has since diminished among many Americans as the economy has changed drastically since 2008. The recession, among other things, has led to high unemployment rates and an overwhelming increase in student loan debt. Voter apathy is back in full force for Election 2012, with only 18% of voters under 30 following the campaigns very closely, compared to 35% from four years ago. This decline in energy among college students is particularly concerning, as this election is critical in deciding the future of U.S. education. It is vital that voters understand the significantly different education policies of President Obama and Mitt Romney, especially in regards to higher education for those starting or currently enrolled in college.
President Obama’s campaign site lists his educational policies as well as initiatives already underway for higher education. He has doubled Pell Grant funding, established a college tax credit, and capped repayments for federal student loans at 10%. In order to ensure that “everyone who works hard can get ahead”, Obama has invested in community colleges and encourages career-training programs. By implementing and expanding the post 9/11 GI Bill, he plans to assist veterans and their families obtain a college education. Obama also plans to raise incentives to keep the most successful teachers in schools.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s higher education goals as described by his web site are to ensure that students have affordable options for college and that those colleges provide the skills students need to get jobs after graduation. He plans to simplify and strengthen the financial aid system. Romney also wants to deregulate higher education to allow for “innovation and competition”, and encourage the private sector to participate. Romney plans to incentivize teachers by changing reward systems to be based on results instead of tenure.
As with any election with an incumbent, it is important to remember that President Obama’s points are mostly regarding what he has already done or is in the process of doing, while Romney discusses what he plans to do. These comparisons of higher education policy are important, particularly for current and prospective college students, in deciding which candidate to vote for in this upcoming election. Americans need to remember that regardless of the changes from 2008 to 2012, it is your future at stake and your voice still counts.