As young people, we understand the struggles of affording a college education. We have felt the consequences of the roughly 40 percent increase in tuition at public universities that has occurred in the past five years (according to a report released by the College Board earlier this month). The stresses of obtaining a higher education are real, which is why our next president needs to put college access and affordability at the top of the agenda.

Hillary Clinton has proved that she is a friend to America’s youth. She understands that what you earn depends on what you learn: College graduates earn 50 percent more than those without degrees. Affordability is among the most important factors in encouraging America’s youth to attend college and remain there. Clinton has proposed to raise the tax credit for higher education (the lifetime learning credit) to $6,000 – the most generous offer of all the presidential hopefuls. She also plans to double the Hope Tax Credit to $3,500.

A few weeks ago, President Bush signed a bill raising the maximum amount awarded by the Pell Grant. Clinton was the one who reintroduced that bill. The Non-Traditional Student Success Act raises the maximum Pell Grant to $11,600 by the 2010-2011 school year, creates a pilot program to allow students attending college less than half-time to receive federal student aid and increases the income protection allowance to allow working students to keep more of their income without losing crucial student aid.

During Bill Clinton’s presidency, Hillary Clinton worked to help create Americorps, one of the most successful volunteer programs in the country. As senator, she fought the Bush administration’s attempts to dismantle the program. As president, Clinton will grant each Americorps volunteer $10,000 to be used for undergraduate or graduate school expenses.

The federal government pays your college tuition if you serve in the armed forces, so why shouldn’t it also pay if you go into a public service position? Clinton has proposed setting up a four-year public service academy, similar to West Point or Annapolis, that would ask for seven years of public service upon graduation. The jobs offered to these graduates would be pay well and include full benefits. The best part is that they would help students start a successful career debt-free.

The average college student graduates with $20,000 in debt, according to the College Board. Clinton’s Student Borrower Bill of Rights will make it easier for students to repay loans and give them a basic set of enforceable rights. This bill will ensure fair monthly payments that do not exceed a percentage of the borrower’s income. It also increases student access to information that could provide them with better options during repayment.

Obtaining financial aid from the federal government is more complicated than filing income tax forms. The application process is long, confusing and inefficient. Clinton wants to take drastic measures to fix this. She would first allow the entire process to be done electronically. She would also offer an option on the income tax form to have families’ profiles evaluated to determine if they are eligible for aid. Through this process, the government could alert families much earlier if they are eligible to receive aid and tell them how much they can expect to receive.

Clinton understands that four-year colleges aren’t for everybody: 43 percent of students start off at a community college. She will strengthen these educational cornerstones by reducing drop-out rates and by simplifying the process of transferring credits to four-year universities.

Hillary Clinton is a leader committed to future generations. She believes we have the right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, pursue a higher education, purchase a home, afford health care and live in a country that holds the same stature in the world as America did when she was growing up. Put her in the White House, and she will fight for these beliefs.

Kelly Bernero is an LSA sophomore and chair of the University chapter of Students for Hillary.

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