Monday, October 13, 2008

Obama and McCain on higher education

Barack Obama proposes an excellent plan for higher education, the American Opportunity Tax Credit. This plan would allow students to exchange 100 hours of community service for a $4,000 Tax credit. Any student that has ever looked for a part time job to fund their college education knows that it is impossible to compete with this rate of $40/hour! This would pay for 2/3 of the average annual tuition at a 4 year public college and would completely cover community college tuition. This plan would be an addition to existing government funding opportunities. The greatest part of this plan is the increased integration of students into the community for mutual benefit. Community internships add considerable value to a student's education. Providing this opportunity to more students is a truly nobel and excellent policy for strengthening students and communities.

McCain's plan for higher education, is focused on simplifying tax credits and financial aid application by "consolidating programs." However, Obama trumps McCain in simplification reform by eliminating the financial aid application process altogether, allowing parents to simply check a box on their income tax forms.

McCain's education policy includes a 250 million dollar program that will increase post-secondary opportunities for high school students by providing tax credits for online college preparatory courses (SAT/ACT).

Obama's education policy supports an infrastructure for preparing high school students with college outreach programs (GEAR UP, TRIO and Upward Bound). Obama also proposes a "Make College a Reality" policy that would actively encourage enrollment in AP classes and provide grants to high school students seeking resources at community colleges not available at their high schools.

McCain proposes 250 million so that "States can use these funds to build virtual math and science academies to help expand the availability of AP Math, Science, and Computer Sciences courses, online tutoring support for students in traditional schools, and foreign language courses." This program would provide important resources for many under-privileged schools and students. Although not specifically listed under McCain's higher education policy, McCain proposes to "target $500 million in current federal funds to build new virtual schools and support the development of online course offerings for students. These courses may be for regular coursework, for enhancement, or for dual enrollment into college." I am in support of increasing and developing online tools that enhance traditional education and provide students with more options. However, I am concerned that this would be seen or encouraged as an alternative to traditional post-secondary education instead of enhancing it, especially for students with funding issues. Student/mentor relationships and the vast support networks for students are critical in the retention of students and in their growth! Why the online-centric approach?

In short, Obama's higher education policy includes support programs for high school students and an element integrating college students within the community, adding value to a students education and benefiting the community. In stark contrast, McCain's policy involves an online education approach that would be great in enhancing education but is not a viable policy to supplant broad reform for student support programs.

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