Campus / Election 2012 / National / News / Special Topics / October 31, 2012

Obama, Romney weigh college financial aid proposals

President Barack Obama and GOP candidate Romney both agree that the price of higher education and its funding should be addressed. Obama wants to help students by giving them as much aid as possible whereas Romney believes the best way to help would be to streamline the financial aid and reform systems.

“I feel like [financial aid] definitely is a big issue in enabling a lot of people who might not have the chance to get to go to college, which is a big deal because it can really help to improve people’s lives,” freshman Alanna Toomey said.

Sophomore Campbell Holinger agreed.

“[Financial aid is] even more so important today when there’s so many blue collar, high school diploma jobs going overseas,” she said. “When you have a bunch of high school grads with no high school grad jobs available, that becomes a problem.”

Obama has already put into place financial aid reform, which has affected many students with financial aid. One of the provisions of this reform bill was to increase the Pell Grant available to each student by $819 to $5,550. Obama also increased the eligibility for the Pell Grant so that more students qualified for this aid. This money helps 9.6 million college students around the country to further their education including 27 percent of Knox students.

Increasing the Pell Grants did not come without a cost, though, as it forced budget cuts that resulted in eliminating the in-school subsidy for graduate students and the new “year round” Pell Grant which were given out twice a year. The in-school subsidy meant that the government paid the interest on graduate students’ school loans while they were in school. With this gone, it will make graduate school more expensive for students, which may deter them from furthering their education. On the other hand, this cut will allow taxpayers to save $43 billion through 2020.

“The economy bottomed out… Parents were losing jobs, thereby … allowing more students to qualify for the Federal Pell Grant than probably would have, had the economy been in decent condition…,” Director of Financial Aid Ann Brill said. “I think that may have exacerbated the financial need for students across the board. So, probably some overspending occurred in the Pell Grant area as a result of the economy.”

The candidates’ plans oppose each other. Obama is focused on growing the student loan program, which he did partly through federalizing student loans.

Obama took the student loans from private institutions and gave all of the power directly to the federal government. The cut of the money that the banks would have taken was then funneled back into student aid programs such as the Pell Grant, raising the total amount available to students.

He also approved allowing students to cap their repayments at 10 percent of their income. This allows students to pay less monthly to repay their loans but it will prolong the payments and end up costing the student more in the long run.

“While this will provide some relief to graduates that are kind of struggling to make their monthly loan payment; I think one needs to be cautious about how long they really want to extend their loan repayment period,” Brill said. “But for some students … how long they repay it doesn’t really matter right now. It’s how can I make the monthly payment and stay out of default. I think that it’s more of a Band-Aid remedy for kind of a bigger problem of perhaps students when they enter repayment being either underemployed or not employed at all.”

Obama has said that additional loans worsen the problem. He believes loans should be given back to the third party banks and allow students to choose for themselves what programs are right for them.

The cost of school is increasing at a rate above inflation. This makes college more and more expensive for students and their families, especially in our current economy. Obama believes that by rewarding institutions with aid for keeping tuition down, it will motivate schools to do so. Some critics say it will make it harder on the schools to keep classrooms small and the price of the institution down.

Romney wants to reform the financial aid system by consolidating programs within the Department of Education and educating students on what the best course for financial aid is for them. He believes that since students are different, there should be a plethora of options for them to choose which ones fit their individual needs.

Romney wants to change the classroom by instituting new education models which encourage students to gain skills outside the classroom and support research so they are better prepared for their future career, although there are not many details on how he plans to do so.

“I think regardless of who becomes president, affordability of a college education is going to be a hot topic,” Brill said, “and so there has been a lot of talk about student loan debt being the highest it has ever been and has surpassed credit card debt.”

Freshman Amber Simon is grateful, nonetheless, for her current financial aid package.

“For Knox in general, I was very surprised at the amount of financial aid I did get because I received very good scholarships, and quite a bit of other needs were met,” she said.

Serafine George

Tags:  Alanna Toomey Amber Simon Ann Brill Barack Obama Department of Education financial aid mitt romney Pell Grant

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