Affordable education: cut taxes or spend

As students are a large segment of America’s voting population — a swath of voters that could easily alter an election’s outcome — it seems presidential candidates would naturally offer a slew of proposals to demonstrate their dedication to making a college education affordable for all.
Respecting the traditional tenets of the Democratic Party, Vice President Al Gore has proposed the most, by far, in federal spending for education with $177.1 billion in new spending and tax breaks for all levels of education over 10 years, according to The New York Times. Republican candidate Texas Gov. George W. Bush, by contrast, has only $24.8 billion in education plans over five years, according to the Times’s detailed summary of the principle candidates’s education proposals on Aug. 31. Not surprisingly, Green Party nominee Ralph Nader and other third party candidates were ignored by the national newspaper, which ridiculed Nader for making a “selfish” presidential run.
Perhaps that is because most of the alternative candidates have yet to offer anything but vague and uninspired ideas on improving or increasing access to education. Although Nader’s observation that corporations have too much financial involvement with colleges and universities is correct, and his argument for full disclosure of institutions’ and professors’ conflicts of interests should be enforced, he has officially put forth little else about his plans for higher education.
Libertarian nominee Harry Browne, on the other hand, has offered a specific, but risky and dubious, proposal to decrease the incredible costs of college. Browne theorizes that government involvement through subsidies and grants in the 1960s spurred the inflation of college tuition from about $1,000 per year in the 1950s to the present rates. If we eliminated these government subsidies as well as the income tax, the Libertarian investment banker claims we would pay substantially less for higher education, an outcome we think unlikely.
John Hagelin, the Natural Law Party and a Reform Party nominee, believes transcendental meditation to be essential to the “development of the human potential.” Although he has only proposed instituting mediation programs — which Hagelin argues boost brain functions — in public schools, the Natural Law Party extends its use to universities. Admittedly, meditation might relieve stress and help students achieve enlightenment. But as a mystical tool bordering on religion, transcendental meditation has no institutional place in public schools or universities.
Of the candidates we researched, Gore is easily the most generous toward higher education on behalf of the federal government. With tax credits and breaks for college students and their families, Gore hopes to give more young Americans the opportunity to attend college.
As the Republican Party has traditionally argued against federal involvement in education, it is not surprising that Bush’s proposals are much more modest. For a Republican, however, they are generous. Bush’s primary intent with the programs he has proposed is to increase funding for disadvantaged students and minorities. He wants to increase federal funding for historically black colleges and universities — where blacks usually fare better — from $180 million to $320 million, and for Hispanic serving institutions from $42 million to $80 million over five years.
He also says he would add $1,000 to Pell Grants for students who take advanced placement or college level math and sciences courses in high school. Bush argues that as 75 percent of those attending historically black colleges are eligible for Pell Grants, his proposal would significantly benefit blacks and help decrease any achievement gaps.
Like Gore, Bush proposes offering tax breaks for families putting aside money for college. Although Gore’s expansive spending plans are more friendly to debt-ridden college students, tax breaks and credits are more financially responsible and should take priority over new spending.
While third parties candidates like Nader will likely earn votes based on their general views and alternative approaches to politics, they would be wise to offer some concrete proposals on higher education, as both Bush and Gore have done.