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High Tuition Campaign Issue for Dems

Criticism flew like arrows from the mouths of senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama during last Monday’s Democratic debate hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus in South Carolina.

As the two Democratic party frontrunners parried, Sen. John Edwards reminded the CNN moderators that “there’s a third person in this debate.”

Despite the sniping between the Democratic hopefuls, their platforms are similar regarding several issues, including financing higher education. They offer plans to drive down college costs and increase enrollment.

On Feb. 5, 23 states including California will conduct primaries. At Mills, presidential buzz seems to focus on the tug-of-war between senators Obama and Clinton.

Samantha Reyna, a junior at Mills, said she’s torn between the two highest ranking Democrats.

“I’m kind of leaning more toward Obama because he seems hip and fresh,” she said, “but Hilary’s older and seems to knows what she’s doing more.”

Here’s how the three Democratic debaters compare on their higher education proposals.

According to her campaign Web site, Clinton plans to increase the maximum Pell Grant to maintain its value against inflating tuition costs. Her plan proposes a $3,500 tax credit toward college tuition.

An additional $500 million and $250 million would be given to community colleges and four-year colleges, respectively, in incentive grants to raise graduation rates.
Clinton also supports more financial aid for AmeriCorps participants, and a check-off box on the federal tax return to replace the FAFSA.

Clinton, Obama and Edwards all agree to replace the Federal Family Education Loan Program with 100 percent direct federal lending to students through the Department of Education. FFELP allows private organizations, both non-profit and for-profit, to provide student loans guaranteed by the government in case the student fails to pay.

Edwards’ proposal includes a national program that would pay for one year of public college tuition, books and fees for two million students who take preparatory courses in high school and work part-time in college. He also emphasizes more college counselors in high schools, especially low-income and underperforming schools.

Edwards also said he wishes to simplify the FAFSA and other student aid applications.
Obama shares Clinton’s plan to eliminate the FAFSA in favor of a check-off box on the tax return forms.

He also pledged to raise the maximum Pell Grant from $5,100 to $5,400 and keep raising it as tuition grows each year. According to Obama, his plan would create a fully refundable $4,000 tax credit for college costs available at the time of enrollment.

The cost of college affects students’ lives in many ways; it may also affect the way they vote.

The candidates’ plans to tackle those costs “will probably be a deciding factor for a lot of us here at Mills,” said Reyna.

Republican candidates will debate this Wednesday while Democrats will have their final spar before Super Tuesday the following night.