Presidential Opinions: Contrasting Obama and Romney Campaigns' Student Aid Policies

By Chitty, Haley | University Business, November 2012 | Go to article overview

Presidential Opinions: Contrasting Obama and Romney Campaigns' Student Aid Policies


Chitty, Haley, University Business


Record numbers of students enrolling in college as well as an increasing reliance on student loans to finance the growing cost of college has vaulted student aid into the national spotlight this campaign season.

Both presidential campaigns are dedicating an unprecedented amount of time articulating their widely varying policies aimed at making college more affordable.

President Barack Obama's administration has pushed for more student aid spending and more regulations to increase the return on the federal investment in higher education.

In contrast, Mitt Romney's campaign promises to reduce federal student aid spending by streamlining the programs and to reduce federal regulations that create additional costs for campuses.

Despite these differences, Obama and Romney seem to agree on two things: First, that students and parents need better consumer information about the cost of higher education and student aid so they can make more informed decisions when choosing a school and determining how to pay for it; and second, they both would like to provide incentives for higher education institutions to keep tuition and fees from increasing.

As you compare campaign proposals, it is important to consider that a President's influence on student aid policy is limited because Congress sets annual funding levels and passes legislation that has the greatest impact on award levels and eligibility criteria. Despite these limitations, the president can influence student aid policy using the authority and influence of his position and the regulatory process.

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PELL GRANTS

Federal spending on student aid has increased dramatically during the Obama administration--with Pell Grant spending doubling from $15.4 billion in 2007-2008 to $34.8 billion in 2010-2011. However, the majority of this increase was due to factors outside Obama's influence--specifically, the dramatic increase in college enrollment and Pell Grant program expansions passed during the Bush administration. Obama did successfully push for an increase in the maximum Pell grant and has fought Congressional proposals to cut Pell funding.

Both campaigns are quick to highlight the Obama administration's record on Pell Grant spending, but for very different reasons. The Obama campaign uses it to demonstrate the President's commitment to college affordability.

"You'd be hard-pressed to find any president who's responded more aggressively on the question of college affordability and college debt than this one," Obama's Campaign Policy Director James Kvaal said at NASFAA's National Conference in July. "He's doubled the investment in Pell Grants. He's doubled the investment in tax credits for college. ... He's accelerated the implementation of the income-based repayment plan and made those terms more favorable."

Romney is highly critical of this increased spending and maintains that it is driving up the cost of college.

"Flooding colleges with federal dollars only serves to drive tuition higher," Romney states in his education plan. He asserts that the "expanding entitlement mentality has expanded the Pell Grant program," putting it on unsure financial footing and forcing Congress to take steps to reduce the cost of the student aid programs.

CAMPUS-BASED AID

To streamline student aid programs and reduce federal spending, the Romney campaign plans to reevaluate campus-based student aid programs like Perkins Loans and the Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG). …

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