You might not be able to tell from the YouTube debate and its aftermath, but the leading Democratic candidates have been adding to their higher education platforms.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, who is currently ahead in national polls on Democratic candidates, on Friday unveiled plans for a major expansion of college preparation and outreach programs for disadvantaged students. Her two top competitors were also talking a bit about higher education -- with John Edwards proposing new savings incentives, and Sen. Barack Obama encouraging students to be idealistic and also offering a plan to help them with health insurance.
While all of the candidates make periodic references to the importance of higher education, detailed proposals have been infrequent. The last spurt of proposals from the leading Democrats came in May, when the scandal over student loans prompted proposals on loans from several candidates. Clinton followed a few weeks later with proposals for science. The weekend's national meeting of College Democrats, held at the University of South Carolina, was the setting for some of the latest proposals. The Republican candidates have not to date released detailed proposals on higher education.
The latest proposals from Clinton came as part of a "youth opportunity agenda" to reach out to the growing number of 16- to 24-year olds who are disconnected from either education or work. Among Clinton's proposals:
- To double spending over five years on federal early intervention programs such as Gear Up that help prepare disadvantaged students for college. Clinton noted that the Bush administration has several times proposed eliminating federal support for such programs (although such proposals have been rebuffed in Congress).
- To double federal spending on job training programs.
- To increase funds for AmeriCorps -- in which students earn scholarships in return for national service.
- To create a new competitive grants program to support collaborations of community colleges and state and local agencies to provide education and job trainings to prisoners and those recently released from prison, with the goal of reducing recidivism rates.
Edwards meanwhile featured college savings in his tax reform proposal. One part of his tax plan would create a new "Get Ahead" tax credit, in which the federal government would match up to $500 a year in savings by those with family incomes up to $75,000 if those savings are for college costs or certain other expenses.
Obama, who has attracted enthusiastic crowds at many campus appearances, in a speech to the College Democrats, urged them to get more involved in his campaign and in social causes generally. But noting a concern of many college students and those who are about to graduate, Obama noted that his health insurance proposal would give young people up to the age of 25 the right to stay on their parents' health insurance plan if they can't find a job with insurance coverage.