Author: Benjamin DeLuca
For most of us, this is the first Presidential election we can vote in. There’s a sense of pride and civic accomplishment in voting, no matter who you vote for. But at the same time, it’s sometimes difficult to connect a candidate’s beliefs with issues that directly impact us. The diverging higher education policies of President Obama and Mitt Romney connect to all college students, making this election critical for all those who rely on federal financial aid.
About 70 percent of Occidental’s student body receives some form of financial aid through loans, grants and/or scholarships. One familiar form of federal financial aid designed to help students from low-income and middle-income families better afford college has been the expansive Pell Grant program. According to a recent New York Times article, President Obama has extended the Pell Grant program to aid nearly 10 million students with $40 billion, a marked increase from $14.6 billion covering 6 million students four years ago. Liberals have applauded the increased funding as evidence of Obama’s belief in the government’s role in providing more opportunities for higher education.
Conservative critics of federal grant programs have argued that the rules of economics prove that increased federal aid has caused the sharp rise in the cost of education. Policy analysts at the conservative Cato Institute have explained this cause-and-effect as simple de facto supply and demand. Mitt Romney’s campaign has said that he would prioritize Pell Grants for “students that need them most.” Considering that the average amount of student debt among students who took out loans in the class of 2011 was $26,500, it’s worth examining if increased federal spending really is the cause of the increasing college costs.
More recently, Romney appears to have shifted his stance on the necessity of Pell Grants. In the first two Presidential debates Romney expressed support for growing the Pell Grant program and claimed he would not cut education funding for college students. It’s possible that Romney’s earlier comments were misinterpreted. It’s also possible that Romney changed his tune on yet another issue to appeal to a more moderate audience.
Obama has taken steps and made his intentions regarding federal education funding known. Romney, on the contrary, hasn’t been as detailed. It’s a good bet that Romney is not leveling with voters on his true intentions because it will not be a popular stance among students. Students typically vote in low numbers. But we have the chance now to affect a policy that impacts our educations, and our lives, directly.
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