This is probably the subject that is most nearest and dearest to me when it comes to education. I came from a family that, like most middle-class Americans, struggled like hell through the 80s (maybe a little more so than some) and then tried to refinance in the 90s only to find themselves royally screwed in the 00s.
So my luck brought me to a place where if I wanted a higher education--and I did--I was going to have to suck it up and pay for it...the rest of my life. College threw me into a debt that would have been somewhat manageable, but law school, even with a scholarship, was still a tough row to hoe. For what I'm paying in student loans on a monthly basis I could have two brand new really nice cars. Let's just put it that way.
So student aid and loan repayment and forgiveness are big issues to me in this election. I believe that, if given the chance, many people would take lower paying jobs if they could have their loans forgiven or paid for during that time, in order to serve communities in need. There are some instances of this, but it's not nearly enough.
Federal loans need a complete overhaul. The limits were set back in the time when a college education at a 4 year public institution could be had for about $15,000. That's no longer the case. For some people (quite a few) private loans are not an option--they either don't qualify or they aren't sufficient to cover the expenses. When people are backed into this kind of situation, they often take longer to graduate from college, which only makes the problem worse.
To top it off, since I graduated from undergrad, many public institutions have begun outsourcing their financial aid offices to the very companies that provide student loans. My alma matter, EMU has done this and because BrotherGrace still goes there, I know how much of a pain it is to deal with them. Now there are more and more cases of fraud in student financial aid.
The candidates have diverging views on where this should go. Obama, someone who had student loans himself and was only able to pay them off before his death due to a lucrative book deal, wants to do two things: (1) simplfy the process for getting financial aid and, (2) provide a $4,000 additional tax credit for students in an accredited program. McCain wants to simplfy the process, and make the federal government a "lender of last resort"--which seems another way to outsource the job to incompetent and uncaring big business.
Though I favor Obama, it's still not enough.
In order to truly reform higher education financial aid, we need to go further. Three things that I would suggest could turn the system on its head.
- We need to both simplify the process of applying for financial aid, while taking into account other factors. For example, a family may make $75,000 a year, but if they're in debt up to their eyeballs, there should be some recognition of that in the student's financial aid.
- We need to provide loan forgiveness programs in more areas where people are needed, including in health care, education and public service. In my opinion, if you go into teaching, nursing or work at a non-profit there should be a forgivness program for you.
- We need to provide more federal grants--not tax credits. These aren't just free money mechanisms--these are the way to invest in our future to ensure that everyone who wants to, can have an education. The tax credits help, but only in the future and even then not that much. No one can afford college on tax credits.