A Look at the Higher Education Platforms of Barack Obama and John McCain

With the 2008 presidential election coming to a close in just a few days, both candidates have spent some time solidifying and explaining their education platforms. This month, we’ll take a closer look at what the presidential candidates have set forward as their initiatives to improve higher education and access to it in the United States.

Barack Obama
Barack Obama and Joe Biden set out a “plan to put college within reach,” addressing funding and college-readiness for American students. This plan includes:
  • American Opportunity Tax Credit: A fully refundable credit, the American Opportunity Tax Credit will ensure that $4,000 of college tuition is free for most Americans. Those that chose to use this credit will be required to conduct 100 hours of public service a year.
  • Simplified Financial Aid Application: Because the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is long and complicated, Obama and Biden propose to simplify the financial aid process by eliminating the FAFSA. A simpler, equally accurate formula would be used to calculate eligibility. Families could apply simply by checking a box on their tax form, eliminating extra forms.
  • College Readiness Assessments: Some states already have Early Assessment Programs involving a voluntary test for high-school juniors to determine if they are on track for college readiness. Obama and Biden propose to provide $25M annually in matching funds for all states to develop these Early Assessment Programs.
  • Pell Grant Expansion: Obama will work to increase the maximum Pell Grant award for low-income students. Additionally, the award will keep pace with the rising costs of inflation.
  • Community College Partnership Program: Grants will be provided to community colleges through the Community Partnership Program. These grants will support conducting analysis of skills and technical education that are in demand in local areas, implementing new associate of arts programs for emerging industry and technical career demands, and rewarding institutions that graduate more students and increase the number of transfer students to four-year institutions.
  • Bank Subsidies Elimination: College loan programs are currently the Direct Loan system that is publicly funded and the Federal Family Education Loan Program that is privately funded through banks and lenders receiving government subsidies and guarantees. The privately funded loans cost more per loan and provide the same benefits as the Direct Loan program. Eliminating the private loan program and shifting the money into aid for students will save taxpayers’ money.

John McCain
John McCain and Sarah Palin support making college more affordable through a big increase in Pell Grants. McCain also supports expanding low-interest loans for middle-class families paying college tuition. Some specifics of his higher education policy include:
  • Preparing for the 21st Century: McCain stated, “We must rise to the challenge and modernize our universities so that they retain their status as producers of the most skilled workforce in the world.” He encourages innovative approaches to education.
  • Information for Parents: Hundreds of factors about institutions are reported to the government each year; McCain wants to make this information available to help students and their families make informed decisions.
  • Simplifying Tax Benefits: Existing tax benefits are too complicated, according to McCain. A larger number of families will claim these benefits if they are simplified.
  • Simplifying Federal Financial Aid: Through a consolidation of available programs, administration will be simplified and students will better understand their eligibility.
  • Eliminating Earmarks: A significant amount of money for earmarks comes from research budgets; eliminating earmarks opens up support for university research.
  • Fixing Student Lending Programs: McCain proposes “an expansion of the lender-of-last-resort capability of the federal student loan system.” Instituting reforms and leveraging the private sector will ensure available funding and simplify the program.

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