Higher-education groups ask Bush, Kerry to address college issues

Lacey Crisp

The presidential debate today will not sway Jodi Goldman’s vote, but she still wants to see the candidates talk about issues such as tuition and other student expenses, she said.

Goldman isn’t alone. On Tuesday, six higher-education groups sent a letter to the campaigns of President George W. Bush and Democratic Presidential Candidate Sen. John Kerry, urging them to address college-related issues at the debate.

“We hope the candidates don’t address these issues just in terms of dollars and resources,” said Barry Toiv, spokesman for the Association of American Universities, one of the groups that sent the letter. “We also hope that they express an understanding of the importance of these issues to the country’s future.”

The second presidential debate will be a town-hall meeting forum at 8 p.m., in which audience members will be able to ask the candidates questions at Washington University in St. Louis.

Toiv said the federal government plays an important role in higher education, and many recent proposals in Congress could cost colleges money, thus raising tuition for students.

But some University students said they are not optimistic that the candidates will address issues relevant to them.

“I don’t expect them to say much of anything,” said Goldman, a junior political science major.

Susan Heegaard, director of the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office, said she hopes the candidates discuss higher education.

She said she wants Bush and Kerry to discuss grants and loans, how taxpayer money is being spent and funding for research, because those areas are important to the University and Mayo Clinic.

“The candidates have talked about rising tuition and Pell Grants,” Heegaard said. “I don’t know if they will actually get into higher education.”

John Engelen, director of University Relations, said he hopes there is a “vigorous” discussion of higher-education policy.

“The Bush administration, in the first four years, have been very concentrated on K-12 education with ‘No Child Left Behind,’ but has not discussed higher education much,” Engelen said.

Engelen said higher-education groups have reached out to the campaigns in hopes that the candidates will discuss higher education during the debate.

“This is an important time in higher-education policy,” Engelen said. “I hope that they discuss it so we know exactly where each candidate stands.”

Friday’s debate has strict rules and guidelines. Audience members must submit their questions before the debate, and the moderator will choose the questions. If someone does not ask his or her submitted question, his or her microphone will be turned off.

-Amy Horst contributed to this report.