In a presidential campaign already marred
by antagonistic commercials, it is refreshing to witness
inspiration and altruism as a vehicle for attracting voters.
John Kerry’s college tour last week showed an impressive
dedication to the interests of America’s youth — a
demographic notorious for low voter turnout. His appearance on
MTV’s “Choose or Lose” program emphasizes how he
has made young voters a priority. While such a large chunk of early
campaign time could be spent with prominent fundraisers or seniors,
who vote in higher numbers, that Kerry rallied college students
exclusively at the start of his general election campaign makes an
optimistic statement about his commitment to advocate for the needs
of younger Americans.
Kerry’s college-tuition assistance plan, announced before
students at the City College of New York, would exchange two years
of community service for free college tuition at a four-year public
institution. Much like AmeriCorps — founded in 1993 for
students to do community service in return for scholarships —
students already enrolled in college could receive tuition breaks
for volunteering part-time at various community organizations.
Kerry estimates 500,000 people will participate in the program.
The plan is reminiscent of John Kennedy’s campaign speech
on the steps of the Michigan Union in 1960, when he announced his
plan to form the Peace Corps. Today, the Corps capitalizes on
community involvement and calls for the kind of activism sparked in
the 1960s. The decade witnessed war, threats to civil liberties and
a generation that demanded a stake in politics. Reviewing the
year’s headlines, such issues are again very much alive.
With tuition rates up around the country, it is imperative the
next president effectively addresses the issues that concern young
voters, which include the ability to afford a quality college
education. Trading community involvement for college tuition is a
innovative way to send more students to college while providing
assistance to sectors most in need of capable volunteers —
including troubled schools and geriatric assistance. The plan
recognizes the services American youth can provide and the plight
of neighborhood organizations and blends the needs of both.
The details of Kerry’s tuition assistance plan remain
vague. In general, he hopes banks will compete for student loans,
driving their interest rates down, but that outline still needs to
be filled in.
The plan, like most presented during presidential campaigns, may
not be ready for enactment today, but it represents a promising
commitment to the needs of the nation’s youth that has yet to
be seen in this campaign cycle. The sentiment behind Kerry’s
college tour symbolizes a much-needed push toward the activism seen
in the days when people cared, spoke out and got involved. Now that
a presidential candidate is on board, where are we?