As the election season enters the home
stretch, it is not uncommon for policy analysis to get lost or
obscured in the storm of political back and forth and intensified
campaign rhetoric. Accordingly, it was no surprise when the
startling results of the national College Board Tuition Survey
passed through the mainstream media largely unnoticed. The survey,
which evaluated trends in national tuition costs, concluded that
tuition at U.S. public universities rose by 10.5 percent this year,
one of the two largest annual increases in the last decade, second
only to last year’s 13 percent price hike. The upward drift
in tuition costs should elevate the importance of higher education
as a campaign issue and bring the two candidates’ divergent
positions on the topic under closer scrutiny.

Angela Cesere

On paper, John Kerry’s higher education plan exhibits a
far-reaching ambition that dwarfs the campaign proposals set forth
by the Bush campaign. While President Bush is focused on the same
marginal increases in Pell Grants he promised four years ago, Kerry
has proposed a sweeping national service plan that, if fully
funded, would cover tuition costs for hundreds of thousands of
students across the country. The plan, which hands out federal
grants to students who agree to participate in at least two years
of community service, aims to reach nearly 500,000 students
nationwide. Along with his bold national service plan, Kerry has
also called for a $4,000 tax credit for parents with college-age
students, as well as a $10 billion block grant for states that
agree to cap tuition at or below the rate of inflation.

While Kerry’s education plan is commendable, it remains to
be seen whether Kerry can muster the fundraising capacity to
finance it while simultaneously sustaining his pledge to cut the
budget deficit in half over the next five years. To his credit,
Kerry has argued that an overhaul of the student loan process, one
that would close lending loopholes and force banks to bid for
student loans in an auction-style format, would pay for the bulk of
his higher education plan. He says the shake up will yield an extra
$14 billion over the next 41 years.

If the Kerry campaign has its numbers straight, and its
broad-scale higher education initiative has a reliable grounding in
fiscal reality, it may very well prove the long-sought solution to
the scarcity of affordable college education in the United States.
Unfortunately, Kerry’s service plan is a scaled back version
of the original proposal. Nonetheless, there is no question that
Kerry’s plans to help make college more affordable will have
a much more positive effect than Bush’s.

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