By Kim Geron
Chair, CSUEB Political Science Department
In less than a month, millions of Americans will head to the polls and cast their ballot for one of two fundamentally different visions for America, and our higher education system.
Will we choose to expand fairness, opportunity and shared responsibility? Or will we opt for harmful spending cuts and tax breaks for the wealthy and reduced investments in education for young Americans?
As a college professor, student adviser and mentor at California State University East Bay, I’ve seen first hand just how critical higher education is for our youth. At the same time, as a father, I’m all too familiar with the difficult choices families make when determining whether they can afford to send their kid off to college.
A good education is an economic necessity for everyone and essential for a strong economy. Our nation must make higher education more affordable and accessible for those with financial need. To do so, we must secure the cornerstones of our nation’s student aid programs.
The next president of the United States, like his predecessors, will have significant sway over the shape and impact of our higher education policies – and our economic growth, prosperity and prospects for generations to come.
That’s why making smart investments in higher education and doubling investments in scholarships and financial aid is what will allow middle-class and working-class families to achieve the dream of a college education and spur innovation and growth in the U.S. economy.
President Roosevelt understood all that when, in 1944, he signed the G.I. Bill and expanded higher education for military veterans – and ushered in the era of community colleges and the modern-day middle class.
When the Soviet Union launched the first man-made satellite into space 10 years later, America’s lawmakers again sprang into action. The future of the country’s economic competitiveness and marketplace was at stake. The National Defense Act of 1958 created federal student loans to help more college students enter the fields of math and science.
But these vital government student aid programs have been under threat for some time. Republicans in Congress want to make aid for students less accessible, eligibility harder, and lower overall funding for college grants. All while the rising costs of a college education is getting more out of reach for the average family.
Seeing these obstacles, and understanding just how important student loans are, President Obama made higher education a priority in his administration from day one. He has increased the maximum Pell grant award from $4,731, to $5,550, to more fully cover college-bound students who have financial-need. He has enacted a college tax credit that has helped 9 million students and families pay for college. He has shifted billions of federal dollars away from the mismanagement of private lenders, and put the money into expanding the Pell grant program, and also into the Federal Direct Loan program that provides funds at low interest rates.
President Obama has also expanded the post-9/11 G.I. Bill and helped more than 800,000 veterans go to college.
These policies have allowed millions of young adults and hard-working Americans to have a shot at a great education and a chance to become our next generation of scientists, teachers and innovators. These investments and reforms, however, will be at risk under a Romney-Ryan administration.
The Romney-Ryan budget and tax plan proposes cuts in federal spending so drastic that even Veterans Affairs would have to be cut by $11 billion a year. Nearly 10 million students would see their Pell grant amounts go down. The rich would get richer while millions of working class students and families would have to pay more for college. The Romney-Ryan tax plan would also let President Obama’s college tax credit expire.
Between now and Election Day, voters are going to hear a lot about reducing the national debt and federal government expenses. But any policy that accomplishes this by vast cuts to college aid programs does so on the backs of college-bound students and families. This is simply bad policy. Even in these tough economic times, we need to invest in our young adults and our nation, and provide access and equity to millions of working class and immigrant students that a college education provides.
Kim Geron is Professor of Political Science at California State University East Bay. He has written extensively about Asian American politics and community development. He is a labor and community activist and serves as Chapter president and sits on the National Executive Board of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) and is Vice-President of the California Faculty Association (CFA).