In the first presidential debate Wednesday evening, President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney mostly sparred over taxes, the deficit and the economy. The only other topic to receive much attention throughout the night was education, and the president seemed to be inserting issues relevant to young voters in several of his answers, including his first three.
Young voters were a critical voting block for Obama in 2008, and support him more than any other Democratic candidate since at least 1980. However, half of people 18-29 are not registered to vote, making it an uphill battle for the president to get them to the polls.
During one of his first responses, Obama brought up access to college right after mentioning his Race to the Top K-12 education reform initiative.
"So now I want to hire another 100,000 new math and science teachers, and create 2 million more slots in our community colleges so that people can get trained for the jobs that are out there right now," Obama said, "and I want to make sure that we keep tuition low for our young people."
Just after that, Romney mentioned how gasoline prices, food prices and health care costs have all gone up, but chose not to mention the cost of college.
Over four years, the cost of a public university's tuition has risen by an average of eight to 15 percent. Romney then said "education is key," before saying there was too much overhead for training and education programs by federal government.
When Obama touted cutting taxes for families, he said that would help them "buy a computer for their kid who's going off to college."
On health care, the president boasted how the Affordable Care Act allows young people to stay on their health insurance until age 26 -- a provision which Romney said he supports keeping, while adding "[you] don't have to have the government mandate that for that to occur."
Land grant colleges even got a shout out, which were established by the Morrill Act of 1962 exactly 150 years ago.
"[A]s Abraham Lincoln understood, there are also some things we do better together," Obama said. "So, in the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said, let's help to finance the Transcontinental Railroad, let's start the National Academy of Sciences, let's start land grant colleges because we want to give these gateways of opportunity for all Americans because if all Americans are getting opportunity, we're all going to be better off."
"When it comes to making college affordable, whether it's two-year or four-year, one of the things that I did as president was we were sending $60 billion to banks and lenders as middlemen for the student loan program, even though the loans were guaranteed," Obama said. "So there was no risk for the banks or the lenders, but they were taking billions out of the system.
"Governor Romney, I genuinely believe cares about education, but when he tells a student that, you know, 'you should borrow money from your parents to go to college,' you know, that indicates the degree to which, you know, there may not be as much of a focus on the fact that folks like myself, folks like Michelle, kids probably who attend University of Denver, just don't have that option."
In a rebuttal, Romney said "I'm not going to cut education funding. I don't have any plan to cut education funding and -- and grants that go to people going to college."
While Romney pledged not to cut Pell Grants, he did endorse the Paul Ryan budget during the Republican primary race, and said he would sign it into law if he were president. Ryan's budget includes around $170 billion in cuts to the Pell Grant program, and could "ultimately knock more than one million students off" the program over the next 10 years.
Romney also said about young people "that 50 percent of college graduates this year can't find work." What Romney was likely referring to was findings by researchers at Northeastern University, Drexel University and the Economic Policy Institute, based on data from the Census Bureau, which found 53.6 percent of bachelor's degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were "jobless or underemployed."
In 2000, "the share was at a low of 41 percent." The actual unemployment rate for recent graduates with bachelor's degrees is 6.8 percent, according to a study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.
Neither candidate addressed young people specifically in their closing statements.
Also on HuffPost:
Ryan Budget Whacks Pell Grants, Makes Federal Student Loans More Expensive
Pell grants are the financial aid packages given to low-income college students which they do not have to pay back. Students who receive them are not required to attend a public college or even stay in their homestate, so that freedom has made it a fairly popular program. However, Rep. Paul Ryan's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/27/pell-grants-paul-ryan-budget_n_1383178.html" target="_hplink">proposed federal budget would cut $200 million</a> from the program, and potentially eliminate help for more than 1 million students. Currently the maximum Pell grant award is $5,645, which only covers about a third of the cost of attending college. Ryan's budget would cut Pell grant eligibility for students who attend classes on less than halftime. His budget would also make it so college students with federal student loans would have to start paying interest on their loans while still in school.
Student Loans And Bankruptcy
Thanks to the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act in 2005, virtually no student loans can be discharged in bankruptcy. So in practical terms, if you have $200,000 in debt for credit cards, car payments, or mortgage payments from a private bank, they can all be wiped away in bankruptcy. However, student loans from the same private lender cannot. The argument is that you can take away someone's car when they file bankruptcy, but you cannot take away their education. The Senate <a href="http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/student-loan-ranger/2012/03/28/looming-student-debt-crisis-hits-the-senate" target="_hplink">heard testimony</a> on March 20 about whether or not this should be changed. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-20/durbin-urges-private-student-loans-be-discharged-in-bankruptcy.html" target="_hplink">leading the charge for bankruptcy reform</a> that would allow students to get rid of their student loan debt when and if they file bankruptcy.
Student Loan Forgiveness Act
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/10/student-loan-forgiveness-act-2012-hansen-clarke_n_1415910.html" target="_hplink">HuffPost Detroit reported</a> on the Student Loan Forgiveness Act, put forward by Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.): <blockquote>H.R. 4170 would forgive student loan debt for those who have paid 10 percent of their discretionary income toward their loans for 10 years and would cap interest on federal student loans at the current rate of 3.4 percent. Individuals who go into teaching, public service or practice medicine in underserved areas would have their debt forgiven after only five years. "Everyone tells us to go to school and work hard and we'll be rewarded for our dedication," Clarke said. "But the promise of a dream can turn into a nightmare for so many people."</blockquote>
Petition For Student Loan Forgiveness Act
An <a href="http://signon.org/sign/support-the-student-loan" target="_hplink">online petition</a> hosted by MoveOn.org has nearly reached its goal of attaining 875,000 signatures in support of the Student Loan Forgiveness Act. The Forgiveness Act would allow students who make payments equal to 10% of their discretionary income for 10 years to have their remaining federal student loan debt forgiven. According to talking points included in the petition, "If you have already been making payments on your student loans, your repayment period would likely be shorter than 10 years. The amount you have already paid on your student loans over the past decade would be credited toward meeting the requirement for forgiveness."
Student Loan Interest Rates: They May Double
A 2007 law that kept federally subsidized Stafford loan interest rates low will expire this summer, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/21/student-loan-interest-rate_n_1371236.html" target="_hplink">meaning the rates would double</a> from 3.4 to 6.8 percent. Students have already gone to Capitol Hill to protest and most Democrats are in favor of keeping the interest rates low. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) proposed a bill that would get rid of the expiration date on the discounted student loan rate. However, Republicans argue it would cost the federal government $5.7 billion, which they say is way too much. If Congress does not act, the interest rates for federal student loans would increase on June 30, 2012.
No Definition Of Credit Hours
Republicans passed a bill out of committee that would repeal minimum standards for a credit hour and removes the need for a state to authorize higher education institutions in their state. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) <a href="http://edworkforce.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=281565" target="_hplink">contends this would allow</a> greater flexibility for schools, Democrats counter that it opens the door for fraud. The federal definition of a <a href="http://democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/blog/overturning-accountability-and-integrity-measures-higher-education-programs-facts-hr-2117" target="_hplink">credit hour is the basic unit</a> underlying the distribution of federal student aid. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) <a href="http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2012/03/15/essay-argues-against-bill-overturn-us-rules-higher-ed-oversight#ixzz1qXWVjWPA" target="_hplink">wrote on Inside Higher Ed</a> that the bill represents a threat to the government's ability to police institutional fraud in the higher education industry. In regards to eliminating the requirement for state authorization for colleges, Bishop said "the bill would make it impossible for states to guarantee the quality of programs operating inside their borders."
Pell Grants Are Now Semester Limited
A rule from the Obama administration <a href="http://www.wtva.com/news/local/story/Longtime-students-may-be-shocked-at-new-law/nDgQP5Yu9ES5KSkIJJYXiw.cspx" target="_hplink">will limit the use</a> of Pell grants to 12 full-time semesters, or approximately six years of studying. The new rule goes into effect July 1, and the Department of Education will contact students in April who have used up their allotted time in school.
Investigate The Federal Loan Programs
Congressional Republicans <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-03-28/republicans-call-for-congressional-probe-of-student-loan-program" target="_hplink">recently sent a letter</a> to the Government Accountability Office urging them to investigate the federal student loan program and whether they are "appropriately managing student debt." The federal government has turned to private debt collectors to collect money owed for student loans, while $67 billion of student loans are now in default, according to Businessweek. Those contractors out there trying to get students and graduates to pay up are paid on commission. The GOP <a href="http://edworkforce.house.gov/UploadedFiles/03-27-12_-_GAO_Letter_on_FFEL.pdf" target="_hplink">letter said</a> they were concerned borrowers who have defaulted are not getting adequate assistance to get back on track repaying their loans. The letter was signed by Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, chair of the House education committee; Sen. Michael Enzi of Wyoming, the ranking member of the Senate education committee; Reps. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina and Judy Biggert of Illinois; and Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma
The CFPB Will See You Now
The newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said it will <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/05/student-loan-complaints-cfpb_n_1322037.html" target="_hplink">field complaints</a> about billing, confusing advertising and collection by private student lenders, and relay complaints about federal loans. "Getting a higher education can mean taking on significant debt - a big decision with a lot of consequences," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. It's safe to say the CFPB is pretty concerned about student debt among American college students. Rohit Chopra, the student loan ombudsman for the CFPB, had a grim forecast recently in a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/22/student-loan-interest-rate_n_1372506.html" target="_hplink">blog post about student debt</a>: "Students continue to borrow private student loans, which lack the income-based repayment and deferment options of federal student loans. If current trends continue, there will be consequences not just for young people, but for all of us."