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Higher education plays a role in Democratic platform

The Obama Agenda
September 4, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Democratic Party released its 2012 platform late Monday night, and, like the administration’s policy over the past four years, it focuses on higher education through two prisms: federal financial aid and the need to increase the proportion of Americans with college degrees.

There’s little in the lengthy list of party positions to surprise even cursory observers of the Obama administration’s approach to higher education policy. The Republican platform was wide-ranging and critical, but also specific: the party hit colleges and universities on several fronts. It alleged political and scientific bias, called for changes to the student loan program and more support for alternatives to four-year colleges, and attacked affirmative action and in-state tuition for students who lack legal documentation to live in the United States..

The Democratic platform is less detailed. (Colleges that felt attacked by the GOP might not mind the tradeoff.) The plan focuses on what the Obama administration has done on higher education, and doesn't touch on some of the issues raised by the GOP document.

Instead, the Democratic plan reiterates Obama’s goal that the United States will have the world’s highest proportion of college graduates by 2020. It provides an overview of the administration’s actions on higher education over the past three and a half years -- including ending bank-based student lending, creating the American Opportunity Tax Credit and expanding the Pell Grant. It also touts the income-based repayment option for student borrowers, an issue the administration plans to push in the final months of the campaign.

Obama made many of the same points in his most recent State of the Union address in January. And the platform also includes the same call he made in that speech: that colleges must provide “good value” or see their federal financial aid reduced. (It doesn’t say how value would be measured, a key question for any future regulation.)

“President Obama has pledged to encourage colleges to keep their costs down by reducing federal aid for those that do not, investing in colleges that keep tuition affordable and provide good value, doubling the number of work-study jobs available to students, and continuing to ensure that students have access to federal loans with reasonable interest rates,” the platform reads.

One upcoming issue was conspicuously absent: the case before the Supreme Court this fall that challenges affirmative action in college admissions. Republicans, in their platform, said they were opposed to advancement based on factors other than merit; the Democrats didn’t mention the issue at all.

Despite the Obama administration’s efforts to police for-profit colleges, those regulations barely rate a mention either. In a paragraph attacking Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s education policy, the Democratic plan criticizes his relationship with for-profit colleges, calling him a “staunch supporter” of the sector. (Romney praised one for-profit college, Full Sail University, during the presidential primaries, but has largely stayed away from the issue since.) For-profit colleges, the platform said, are “expensive... schools that often leave students buried in debt and without the skills for quality jobs and that prey on our servicemembers and veterans.”

The document reiterates Democrats’ support for community colleges and education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as raising the standards for teacher education programs. It calls for doubling the funding for some basic research programs and continuing to support the National Endowment for the Humanities. And it supports collective bargaining for public workers, which have been under attack by some Republican governors.

Immigration is presented as a key education issue. The Democrats’ plan references the Obama administration’s recent decision to allow immigrants who came to the U.S. as children (brought by their parents, who lack legal immigrant status) to obtain work permits. The platform propose allowing more foreign students with American degrees to stay here to work (one of the few positions shared with the Republican platform).

“President Obama and the Democrats fought for the DREAM Act, legislation ensuring that young people who want to contribute fully to our society and serve our country are able to become legal residents and ultimately citizens,” the plan reads. “Although this bill has a long history of bipartisan support, Republicans decided to play politics with it rather than do the right thing.”

And, in the sole reference to student debt, an issue that has reappeared several times during the presidential campaign, the party gets in a dig at a remark Romney made at a campaign appearance months ago. “Tuition at public colleges has soared over the last decade and students are graduating with more and more debt,” the platform reads. “But Mitt Romney thinks students should ‘shop around’ for the ‘best education they can afford.’ ”

Delegates will vote to officially adopt the platform later today.

 

 

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