Obama and Romney Weigh In on the Future of Higher Education

While the economy (as always) remains the primary concern for American voters, higher education has become a greater issue than any election in recent history. Soaring tuition, skyrocketing student debt, and plummeting unemployment rates among recent college graduates have put this issue near the top of the list of concerns for young voters (and their parents!)
Time Magazine’s 10/29/12 cover story “Reinventing Higher Education” provides first hand insight into how the two presidential candidates would solve the nation’s current higher education crisis.

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Don’t Stop Now On Higher Ed Reform

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President Barack Obama greets students before the Joplin High School commencement, Monday, May 21, 2012, in Joplin, Mo. (RICH SUGG / THE KANSAS CITY STAR / AP)

Michelle and I are who we are only because of the chances our education gave us. Great teachers and the chance to earn a college education with the help of scholarships and student loans were our gateways to opportunity. And today more than ever, the education we provide for our children and our workers is the key to a good job and a secure middle-class life.

I’ve always believed that education begins at home, with parents who take responsibility — who read to their kids, set limits on the TV and instill a lifelong love of learning. But there’s no substitute for a good school or the teacher who stands at the front of the classroom.

We know that a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by more than $250,000. A great teacher can change the trajectory of a child’s life. That’s why, even as we faced one of the worst economic crises in history, I fought to keep teachers in the classroom. During my first two years in office, we worked with states to help save the jobs of 400,000 educators.

But we did more than just invest resources in our schools. We demanded reform in return. And for less than 1% of what our country spends on education each year, we spurred nearly every state to raise standards for teaching and learning. We did this by working with governors of both parties, because giving our kids the best education possible shouldn’t be a Democratic issue or a Republican issue — it’s an American issue.

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Demand Real Change In Higher Education

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Former Massachusetts Gov. and Republican candidate for president Mitt Romney participates in a 6th grade language class at Universal Bluford Charter School on May 24, 2012 in Philadelphia, PA. (MARIO TAMA / GETTY IMAGES)

My father had a favorite saying: “Nothing is as vulnerable as entrenched success.” When I think about the future of American higher education and its importance to our nation’s long-term success, his cautionary advice comes to mind.

We are rightly proud of our extraordinary universities and other institutions of higher learning. Many of the most important scientific breakthroughs occur in their labs, and young people from around the world flock to their campuses to study. For decades, we have known that these institutions were promoting inquiry, inspiring creativity and ultimately preparing our citizens for success.

But today our higher-education system faces serious challenges. During the last election, President Obama genuinely inspired young Americans with a promise of hope and change. On college campuses across our country, he promised an excited generation that he would help them. Four years later, those promises have turned to disappointments.

Tuition has increased by 25% — even faster than health care costs. The President added tens of billions of dollars in federal funding, and yet more than three-quarters of families now say they feel higher education is unaffordable. Total student debt has reached $1 trillion, and the average student who borrows now graduates with $25,000 in debt. Perhaps worst of all, these students are graduating into an economy in which only half can even find jobs that match their degrees.

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