Obama, Romney Differ on Higher Education Funding, Loans

With the first presidential and the vice-presidential debates behind us — and the second debate Tuesday night — the candidates' policy views are increasingly coming into focus. One of the issues where the gap is the widest between President Barack Obama and the Republican candidate Mitt Romney is on their views of the government's role in higher education funding. For those who are attempting to understand where each candidate stands, The Prospector breaks down each aspect of the issue, including student loan financing, affordability and financial aid.

The one overarching idea that drives policy for Romney is that private entities do a better job of managing everything from loans to aid than does the government. Based on this, he believes that private lenders should play a bigger role in college financing, which could, according to Kathleen Staudt, who is a political science professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, lead to higher interest rates for students.

One of the main higher ed achievements of the first Obama administration has been fighting to maintain low interest rates on federally subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans, something that administration officials believe saved thousands of dollars for nearly 7 million college students in the country. To tackle the problem of crippling loan payments, Obama also introduced a program that capped monthly repayments to 10% of discretionary income.

"President Obama would be better for higher education in this country. It's my understanding that he wishes to make college more affordable by lowering interest on government issued student loans," said Jose Pineda, sophomore music major. "Plus he makes it easier to pay back our loans based on our annual income after college. He believes that a higher education should be a right that everyone has and that money should not get in the way of that. It is also my understanding that Romney wishes to either raise interest rates on student government loans or make the process of receiving loans much harder."

During his tenure as the Governor of Massachusetts, Romney proposed a program that would have allowed any student that graduated in top 25% of their high school class to attend a public university in the state tuition-free. However, he has not talked about introducing anything similar on a national level if he is elected, and, according to Prospector's Rebecca Guerrero, seemed reluctant to discuss higher ed, preferring to discuss his K-12 policy ideas instead.

According to the Center for American Progress Fund, an independent nonpartisan organization, Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan's budget plan to reduce the national deficit—which is a key part of Romney's platform—shows that it would slash more than $15 billion of mandatory and discretionary funding from the Pell Grant program beginning next year. That is a 42 percent cut to Pell Grants. The budget claims that this is to ensure that the money is going to the truly needy.

Prior to and after making Paul Ryan his choice for VP, Romney expressed his support for the Ryan budget — but if, as part of adopting the budget, Romney plans to slash Pell grants, he hasn't explicitly said so.

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