Obama and Romney Talk College at Education Nation
On Tuesday, NBC news held the annual summit called Education Nation, in which presidential candidates President Barack Obama and Former Governor Mitt Romney laid out their beliefs regarding the state of education in America today, and their plans to help improve school performance and student test scores, as well as their opinions regarding issues facing college students.
Education Nation began in 2010 as a way for educators and citizens to initiate a dialogue on the state of education within the country, and discuss remedies for problems like low-test scores, school funding, retention, and improving the quality of instruction. While the event was largely geared towards issues regarding K-12 education, problems involved in America’s college and university system were also discussed by the candidates.
Governor Romney spoke before an audience of educators and responded to questions from both the moderator, NBC Nightly News anchorman Brian Williams, as well as from the crowd. In between discussing his beliefs regarding the need for states to incentivize schools to perform well rather than on the federal level, Governor Romney also briefly described his perceived problems with higher education today.
“Higher education is also essential to the success of our economy and to the wellbeing of so many of our fellow citizens. And we have excellent institutions of higher learning. I mean, it’s — we’re a model for the world,” said Romney. “But one trend in higher education gives me great concern and that’s the rapid growth in the cost of tuition, the cost of higher education. And we’re on an unsustainable path there. You can’t continue to have higher education tuition grow at a multiple of the rate of inflation.
“At some point something has to give. And we’re going to have to find a solution. I have ideas myself in that regard, but I do believe this is something that just can’t go on.”
Governor Romney, in keeping with his campaigns primary focus on the economy, also said that one of the biggest threats to college students today is their job prospects after graduation.
“[R]elated to that is the fact that people coming out of institutions of higher learning can’t find jobs,” said Governor Romney. “And the combination of more and more expensive tuition and fewer and fewer job opportunities this last year with half of our kids graduating without being able to have a full-time job or one consistent with their degree, that’s a real problem. And those two combined must end or we’ll have a real threat to our higher education system.”
In terms of how students could pay for the rising cost of tuition, Governor Romney made no mention of Pell Grants or other federal loan programs, but instead highlighted the need for merit based scholarships.
“While I was governor, we were able to pass legislation that said that if you took the exam to graduate and you were among the top quarter in your high school in terms of the grade you got on that exam, then you were entitled to the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, which was four years tuition free at any Massachusetts public institution of higher learning,” said Governor Romney. “Now that’s not as generous as you might hope because in Massachusetts fees are a lot more than tuition. But it was nonetheless some help and support for young people to working to get at a higher education. ”
President Obama pre-recorded his appearance in an interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, and also discussed problems facing college students today in regards to tuition, and the steps his administration has taken to help curb its rising costs.
“[O]ur first step was to make sure that we were providing the aid and grants that were needed so that the burden wasn’t all falling on kids,” said President Obama. “And we expanded Pell Grants. We took $60 million out of the student loan program that was going to banks and middle men. We said, ‘Let’s cut out the middle men. Let’s use that to expand the assistance we’re providing the kids.’
“So as a consequence– the average actual out-of-pocket cost for kids has not gone up as fast as tuition has gone up. But that’s not a sustainable model. So we’re going to have to actually keep tuition down. Now, the biggest problem we’ve got with tuition– especially at public universities, is state legislatures have been shifting priorities.”
After discussing the need for states to prioritize higher education in their funding, as well as how that funding is being spent, President Obama also emphasized the need for college students to become better informed on more financially sound options for attaining a degree, such as attending community college, and understanding the amount of debt they would face at the end of their college career.
“One of the things that, you know, we want to do is make sure the kids know what it is that it’s going to cost them to go to college,” said President Obama. “So my– as part of our Wall Street reform package, we set up something called The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, which is designed to help consumers on a whole range of things, financial transactions, mortgages, et cetera, credit cards. And one of the things they’ve done is to create a mechanism to work with schools so that kids know before they owe.
“They get a clear sheet before they sign up for that school, explaining, even if the college tells you, ‘Look, don’t worry about cost we’ll– you’ll be able to get the money for your college,’– a lot of times kids don’t know how much they’re actually going to owe at the end of four years. And so we’re saying, ‘You’ve gotta make that information above so the kids can be better consumers and as a consequence get the best bargain possible.’”