Taking On Higher Ed
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Republican Party’s 2012 platform has strong words for higher education's alleged failings, on ideological bias as well as unsustainable tuition hikes. The lengthy document, approved here today at the party's presidential convention, also draws a hard line on standard party litmus tests affecting colleges, such as immigration, public employee unions and embryonic stem cell research.
The GOP’s playbook praises colleges for their research clout and recruitment of foreign talent. But the overall tone about the sector is combative.
“Ideological bias is deeply entrenched within the current university system. Whatever the solution in private institutions may be, in state institutions the trustees have a responsibility to the public to ensure that their enormous investment is not abused for political indoctrination,” the platform said. “We call on state officials to ensure that our public colleges and universities be places of learning and the exchange of ideas, not zones of intellectual intolerance favoring the left.”
Bias also harms university research, the Republican plan said in an apparent reference to climate change. “We must restore scientific integrity to our public research institutions and remove political incentives from publicly funded research,” according to the document, which did not specify what those incentives are.
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and now official presidential nominee, arrived here today. His public statements on higher education have been limited, including vague praise for the for-profit sector and criticism for President Obama’s inability to curb rising college tuition prices.
The platform runs with that criticism, and takes on colleges for being out of touch with the job market. “It is time to get back to basics and to higher education programs directly related to job opportunities” -- language likely to trouble those who are worried that a vocational tilt in federal higher education policy would be exacerbated under a President Romney.
New rivals to traditional four-year colleges can help drive down the price of degrees, according to the document, including: “expanded community colleges and technical institutions, private training schools, online universities, life-long learning and work-based learning in the private sector.” And public policy should advance “affordability, innovation and transparency” to tackle higher education’s challenges, partially through requiring the release of more information for students and their families about institutional graduation and loan repayment rates, as well as average wages of alumni.
The platform describes the federal financial aid system as being on an "unsustainable path," and calls for an end to the federal government's direct loan program for student loans, and a return to bank-based lending. The shift to 100 percent direct lending has been the centerpiece of President Obama's higher education policy, as his administration used savings from ending subsidies to private lenders to bolster Pell Grants for needy students.
Unsurprisingly, given the platform's overall tough stance on immigration, the document calls for federal funding to be denied to public colleges that charge illegal immigrants the lower tuition rates they charge to in-state students. But it also encourages an open door approach to foreign students, with a call for “strategic immigration” by granting more “work visas to holders of advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math from other nations,” and for allowing more of those students remain here after their studies are over.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who famously battled his state’s public employee unions, got more than one sustained ovation when he spoke at the convention Tuesday. The platform strikes a similar note to Walker, with its aggressive stance of cracking down on unions.
“We salute the Republican Governors and State legislators who have saved their States from fiscal disaster by reforming their laws governing public employee unions,” the platform said. “We urge elected officials across the country to follow their lead in order to avoid State and local defaults on their obligations and the collapse of services to the public.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case that could determine the future of affirmative action in college admissions. There will be no doubt where a President Romney would stand on affirmative action when appointing justices to the top court, at least if the platform is any indication.
"We support efforts to help low-income individuals get a fair chance based on their potential and individual merit; but we reject preferences, quotas and set-asides as the best or sole methods through which fairness can be achieved, whether in government, education, or corporate boardrooms,” it said. “Merit, ability, aptitude and results should be the factors that determine advancement in our society."
On K-12 education, the document echoes former President Bush’s language on school reform, arguing against the “crippling bigotry of low expectations." However, it also said the federal government must defer to states.
Further excerpts from the party’s platform follow below:
Research funding: "We also support federal investment in basic and applied biomedical research, especially the neuroscience research that may hold great potential for dealing with diseases and disorders such as Autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. If we are to make significant headway against breast and prostate cancer, diabetes and other killers, research must consider the special needs of formerly neglected groups. We call for expanded support for the stem-cell research that now offers the greatest hope for many afflictions -- with adult stem cells, umbilical cord blood and cells reprogrammed into pluripotent stem cells -- without the destruction of embryonic human life. We urge a ban on human cloning and on the creation of or experimentation on human embryos."
Job training: "It is critical that the United States has a highly trained and skilled workforce. Nine federal agencies currently run 47 retraining programs at a total cost of $18 billion annually with dismal results. Both the trainees in those programs and the taxpayers who fund them deserve better. We propose consolidation of those programs into state block grants so that training can be coordinated with local schools and employers."
State spending: "Scores of entrenched federal programs violate the constitutional mandates of federalism by taking money from the states, laundering it through various federal agencies, only to return to the states shrunken grants with mandates attached. We propose wherever feasible to leave resources where they originate: in the homes and neighborhoods of the taxpayers. We call on the federal government to do a systematic analysis of laws and regulations to eliminate costly bureaucratic mandates on the states and the people. With every right comes a responsibility. A few states and their political subdivisions are currently in dire fiscal situations, largely because of their spending, debt and failure to rein in public employee unions. In the event those conditions worsen, the federal government must not assume the state governments’ or their political subdivisions’ financial responsibility or require the nation’s taxpayers to pay for the misrule of a few state governments. Nor shall the states assume the federal government’s financial responsibility."
Visa policy: "Highly educated immigrants can assist in creating new services and products. In the same way, foreign students who graduate from an American university with an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering or math should be encouraged to remain here and contribute to economic prosperity and job creation. Highly skilled, English-speaking and integrated into their communities, they are too valuable a resource to lose. As in past generations, we should encourage the world’s innovators and inventors to create our common future and their permanent homes here in the United States."
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