While on the campaign trail giving his stump speech, President-elect Barack Obama often discussed his plan to make college tuition affordable. He vowed to give $4,000 tax credits to college students who complete a minimum of 100 hours of community service.
“You in invest in America, America will invest in you, and together we will move this country forward,” he said over and over again on the stump.
That means Obama’s proposal to help foot tuition bills, which his campaign said would cost taxpayers as much as $10 billion a year, could fall by the wayside for now, with the government already shelling out nearly a trillion dollars to revive a slowing American economy and help fix a financial system in crisis.
Prof. David Mayhew, an American politics expert at Yale University, said he expected the campaign promise would be reviewed eventually, but warned that other issues would take priority.
“There’s an immense budget problem that will take priority right now,” he said. “I wouldn’t count on anything quick.”
In a meeting Monday, Obama asked President Bush to provide emergency financial aid to auto makers on the verge of bankruptcy. Sources close to Bush told The New York Times that the president would only accept such a deal if it was met with congressional approval of trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
Communications Prof. Michael Traugott said some policymakers are insistent on bailing out the auto industry, arguing that should one of the Detroit Three fail, joblessness around the country could spike.
“There are many economists that argue that the spillover effects of job losses in car manufacturing to other kinds of supporting industries would be significant — maybe up to 3 million jobs,” he said.
Despite how far federal funds are being stretched, though, Traugott said he doesn’t think Obama’s plans for a tuition tax credit will be quickly pushed aside.
“It’s true that the resources of the federal government aren’t unlimited, but I don’t think that these two things are directly competing for whatever available funds there are,” he said.
Traugott said he thought the Obama administration would make the tuition tax credit a priority because Obama sees education as a matter of economic policy, not a way to reward his base.
“I expect him to try very hard to try to honor this commitment, because he thinks it’s in the best interest of the nation more so than he’s trying to reward voters for supporting him,” Traugott said. “I think he’ll try to do this quickly.”
The President- and Vice President-elect, along with their wives, have long been involved in higher education. Barack Obama taught constitutional law and Michelle Obama worked in medical administration at the University of Chicago. Joe Biden taught constitutional law at Widener University School of Law and Jill Biden teaches English at a community college in Delaware.
Stephanie Young, a spokeswoman for Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan group that encourages young people to vote, said she expects younger Obama supporters to understand that other issues might take priority on the new president’s agenda.
“They know there are a lot of issues,” she said. “They will understand that if their issues are not at the forefront of the first thing the president-elect does when he gets into office.”
Of course, the big issues that Obama is already focusing on — the economy, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — have perhaps even greater potential to impact the lives of college-age Americans.
Young said that young Americans ranked the economy, the war in Iraq and health care higher on their list of top issues than college affordability.
“They understand that all of these issues are extremely important and therefore are going to take some time to rectify,” she said. “They realize that this is all going to take time and nothing can happen overnight.”