Obama, McCain on higher education creates mixed feelings on campus
October 30, 2008
Federal funding for higher education may not be on the forefront of either Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. John McCain’s talking points, but both of their platforms receive criticism from all sides.
Seventy-five percent of UW-River Falls students use some type of federally funded financial aid according to the outgoing Financial Aid Director Sandra Oftedahl.
One issue that the presidential candidates agree on is that difficult federal aid process for college needs to be simplified.
The current free application for federal student aid is eight pages long and contains over 100 questions.
“You never feel like it’s done right,” Brian Huffman, advisor for College Republicans, said. “Hopefully there will be a movement for change no matter who gets elected.”
If elected, McCain would like to simplify the higher education tax benefits, simplify federal financial aid, improve research by eliminating earmarks and fix the student lending programs, according to his Web site.
“Sen. McCain wants to simplify the higher education tax code because many families do not claim higher education tax credits,” Casie Kelley, the student contact for the College Republicans, said in an e-mail interview.
Beyond basic ideas, McCain has no solid proposals.
“My guess is that [McCain’s] complete lack of proposals means [higher education] is not a priority,” Matt Dale, the College Democrats secretary, said. “No one should expect that college students will get assistance from a McCain presidency—financial or otherwise.”
Obama has proposed an American Opportunity Tax Credit of $4,000 to make college affordable. In order to receive the tax credit, 100 hours of public service is required, according to Obama’s Web site.
“I think this is a great plan to help students pay for college while giving back to their communities at the same time,” Alexandra Dorgan, a recruiter for Obama’s campaign stationed in River Falls, said in an e-mail.
Dale, director of legislative affairs for the Student Senate, said that although UWRF has one of the lowest tuition rates, he does not see the trends of increasing fees changing.
“The Obama credit is necessary to keep this school accessible,” Dale said.
Obama’s tax credit requiring service does not sit well with Huffman, chair of the management and marketing department, who called the idea fascist.
“Service learning is another attempt to make Hitler youth out of all of you,” Huffman said.
Alex Halverson, member of the Union of Democrat Progressives, said he looked into joining the Peace Corps, but found out that one cannot say anything bad about the American government while serving.
“It seems ridiculous that you need to completely support the government before you get the money for school,” he said.
The government pays for Dale’s college tuition because he is a medic in the 34th Infantry of the Minnesota National Guard. He does not see the tax credit as something to be scared of because Obama’s plan is not saying that the student has to join a specific organization.
“I am glad to see Obama is widening the scope with different non-military ways for students to get help,” Dale said.
Federal funding comes from bureaucracy and resources—all spending bills originate in the House of Representatives. Whoever is elected will have a little pull, but not a lot.
“Despite the best intentions of both candidates, when it comes down [to] practicalities, they can only do so much,” Oftedahl said.
Halverson, a Ralph Nader supporter, said that the current federal aid system for higher education is not doing a good job. College has become expensive and Halverson, 24, said that he is around $20,000 in debt.
“I view higher education as a fundamental right,” the senior history major said in regards to living in a modern society. “It should be a constitutional right.”
Republicans like Huffman disagree with this view on higher education.
“College is not a right, since rights do not cost money. If you have a right to speech, and you do, all I need to do is let you speak. If you have a right to a college degree then someone else must have an obligation to pay for it,” Huffman said. “Rights involve things like the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. None of these real rights require anything on my part.”
Dale, 23, said that he thinks that the drive and the will to succeed should be rewarded.
“[Obama] believes in making higher education in reach for anyone who wants to achieve it and is willing to work for it.”
Sometimes the issues surrounding higher education are put on the back burner because the presidential candidates tend to focus on what are seen as bigger issues, such as the war and the economy.
“It is challenging to make a case for higher education in America because it is viewed more as a privilege and not an expectation,” Oftedahl said. “It’s expendable because it is not something that is quantifiable.”
Incoming financial aid director Barbara Stinson said she describes herself as cautiously hopeful as to what will happen with federal funding when the presidency changes hands.
“I will believe it when I see it,” Stinson said. “We need to make [higher] education a priority.”