With Iraq, jobs and taxes dominating political discourse in the
final weeks of the presidential campaign, some college students and
families may not have noticed the results of a College Board
tuition survey released yesterday: Tuition at U.S. public
universities rose an average of 10.5 percent this year.

That figure is the second-highest in the past decade, behind
last year’s 13 percent increase.

As a result, the presidential candidates’ higher education
plans, all but ignored in stump speeches and debates recently, may
become even more important for determining the future of college
costs. President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry each
have proposals to make college more affordable, and their plans
differ significantly.

Bush’s higher education proposals consist mostly of
increases in funding for student loans and the Pell grant program
— currently the federal government’s main outlet of
financial aid for low-income college students.

Since Bush took office, the number of Pell grants awarded per
year has increased from 3.9 to 5.1 million. The president has said
he will increase the maximum size of Pell grants by $1,000,
bringing the top award to $5,050.

However, Bush pledged during his 2000 presidential campaign to
increase the maximum grant to $5,100; during the first year of his
presidency the maximum increased from $3,300 to $4,050, but it has
remained frozen at that amount for three years.

Bush has also proposed increasing student loan limits from
$2,625 to $3,000 for first-year students and allocating more money
to community colleges.

Kerry’s plans for higher education are in many ways more
ambitious. He has proposed a national service plan to pay full
college tuition for hundreds of thousands of students who work for
two years, a $4,000 tax credit for families with children in
college and $10 billion for fiscal relief to be distributed among
states that keep tuition down at public universities.

Kerry’s $10 billion for states that limit tuition is part
of a proposed $25 billion one-time general relief fund to help
states with budget deficits. Jason Furman, economic policy director
for the Kerry campaign, said Michigan would receive $347 million in
fiscal relief from the federal government in exchange for keeping
tuition increases at or below inflation. Only Florida, Ohio and
Pennsylvania would receive more aid than Michigan under this
plan.

But Kerry has also promised to cut the federal budget deficit in
half within four years, and recently conceded that he may have to
scale back his national service plan to meet that goal. Furman said
that means the plan will cover 500,000 students per year, instead
of the 1 million originally proposed.

Under Kerry’s national service plan, students would have
the option of working either full-time or part-time for two years.
Part-time participants would receive up to $2,000 per year for four
years of college, and full-time workers would be given full tuition
for four years at a public university.

Available work in the part-time service program would include
supporting at-risk preschoolers, tutoring young children in reading
and mentoring at-risk teenagers. The full-time service program
would put students to work as teachers and teachers’ aides in
elementary schools, builders in low-income housing projects and
park workers among other jobs.

Kerry’s proposal calls for enrolling 200,000 students per
year in the full-time program and 300,000 per year in the part-time
program within a decade.

To pay for his national service plan, Kerry says he will
overhaul student loans, requiring banks to bid for student loan
contracts at an auction and cutting subsidies for banks that give
out student loans. Kerry’s campaign projects this will save
the federal government $14 billion over a decade.

Kerry’s campaign says the tax credits and fiscal aid for
states would be paid for by rolling back Bush’s tax cuts for
people who earn more than $200,000 a year.

 

How they differ

Kerry’s and Bush’s higher education
proposals

Proposals to increase the Pell grant programs are central to
Bush’s plan

A national service plan to pay full college tuition for students
who work full-time for two years is part of Kerry’s
plan

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