Higher education policy hasn’t exactly been a hot-button issue this election season, but it finally came up after Wednesday’s presidential debate.
In the last of three presidential debates this fall, Democratic candidate Barack Obama and Republican candidate John McCain briefly touched on the issue of college affordability at Hofstra University in New York.
Answering a general question about the education problems, Obama said “this probably has more to do with our economic future than anything.“
McCain, answering the same question, said education is “the civil rights issue of the 21st century.“
After talking about the quality of elementary and secondary education, Obama turned to higher education.
“And I think it’s important for us to make college affordable,” Obama said. “Right now, I meet young people all across the country who either have decided not to go to college or if they’re going to college, they are taking on $20,000, $30,000, $50,000, $60,000 worth of debt, and it’s very difficult for them to go into some fields, like basic research in science, for example, thinking to themselves that they’re going to have a mortgage before they even buy a house.“
Obama has proposed making the first $4,000 of a student’s college education free if they participate in some kind of community service. According to Obama’s campaign website, the credit would also cover two-thirds of the cost of tuition at the average public college or university.
McCain spent more time in his answer talking about school vouchers and federal spending, but he did mention higher education policy as well.
“As far as college education is concerned, we need to make those student loans available,” McCain said. “We need to give them a repayment schedule that they can meet. We need to have [a] full student loan program for in-state tuition. And we certainly need to adjust the certain loan eligibility to inflation.“
McCain’s campaign website says his goals include simplifying higher education tax benefits and simplifying federal financial aid, as well as eliminating earmarks for higher education.
During the debate, Obama challenged McCain’s response on higher education.
“Recently his key economic adviser was asked about why he didn’t seem to have some specific programs to help young people go to college and the response was, well, you know, we can’t give money to every interest group that comes along,” Obama said. “I don’t think America’s youth are interest groups, I think they’re our future.“
McCain did not directly respond to that part of Obama’s statement.
Election Day is Nov. 4. To view the debates in full online, visit mydebates.org.
JEREMY OGUL can be reached at email@example.com.