College funding at center of Got Tuition?’s message

Ben Wolford

Group hopes to inform students on big issues

The War in Iraq, Wall Street and renewable energy dominate the presidential candidate discourse and the public eye. One organization aims to refocus it.

Got Tuition?, a nonpartisan group owned and operated by the National Education Association, will be making a stop at Kent State Oct. 15. The group seeks to educate student voters about issues that affect them.

“We’re trying to get people to say, ‘I guess I should care about this, since it’s my money,'” said Danielle Sherritt, chair of the Ohio Student Education Association, a branch of the NEA.

Got Tuition? will set up a booth outside the M.A.C. Center to pass out information about both presidential candidates, Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain.

“As college students, we have to be our own activists,” said Sherritt, who is also a Kent State graduate student for gifted education. “Most people that have graduated from college pay off their loans, and then they really don’t care.”

Although Got Tuition? is nonpartisan, the NEA endorses Obama largely for his support of increasing Pell Grants. Obama co-sponsored a bill in 2007 that would have raised the maximum Pell Grant from $4,050 to $5,100.

President Lester Lefton said the availability and amount of Pell Grants should be one of the biggest issues for a student voter, though no one should vote based on a single issue.

“The most important thing that they can do at the federal level is to increase the Pell Grants,” he said. “The working poor and their families are lacking in economic resources and need those Pell Grants to pay the first five or six grand of a student’s bill.”

Right now, the maximum Pell Grant award is $4,731, up about $700 from four years ago.

The Candidates On College Issues: Barack Obama

Pell Grants

Voted to increase the maximum Pell Grant from $4,050 to $5,100.

Tax Credits

Proposes a plan to create an American

Opportunity Tax Credit, which would exchange $4,000 of the cost of the first year of college for 100 hours of community service.

Financial Aid

Proposes a plan to simplify the federal financial aid process by eliminating the current application. Instead, families can apply by checking a box on their tax form that would allow their tax information to be used.

University Research

Plans to increase grants to young researchers.

The Candidates on College Issues: John McCain

Pell Grants

Voted against increasing the maximum

Pell Grant.

Tax Credits

Proposes a plan to make sure eligible families claim tax benefits by simplifying the process. A lower tax burden would allow more people to send their children to college.

Financial Aid

Proposes a plan to simplify the financial aid process by consolidating aid programs to make them easier to navigate.

University Research

Plans to increase research grants by eliminating earmarks on research projects that benefit only a few people.

Last week, the Department of Education announced a $6 billion deficit in the Pell Grant program for fiscal year 2009, the result of more students applying and qualifying for federal aid.

“You always will see that when the economy is bad, there are more people getting an education and going to school,” said Pat Myers, director of government relations. “When the economy is good, there are more people out working, and they don’t bother.”

Getting a loan is another thing.

Ron Stolle, assistant professor of finance, said problems with America’s big banks will make doing that tougher.

“We’re in the midst of a credit crunch,” he said. “If lending becomes more expensive, if it becomes more restrictive, it’s going to be increasingly difficult to secure loans.”

Kent State, however, offers federal loans for students, which are guaranteed.

Stolle said students should be more concerned about the health of the economy as a whole.

“Depending on what happens with some of the major issues, it’s going to have long-term consequences on (students),” he said. “Just looking at if Pell Grants or Sallie Mae survives is a very short-term, limited view.”

Myers said the future of America’s economy is wrapped up in higher education.

“Our whole economy depends on a well-educated work force,” she said. “(Our candidates) need to be impressed upon that higher education is very important.”

But Lefton said primary education is also important.

“They (McCain and Obama) have different approaches to solving the same problem, which is to increase the number of individuals who go on to higher education,” he said. “Quite honestly, I think they should focus more on elementary and secondary education.”

He said education at a university is hampered if students don’t leave high school with a strong foundation of skills.

For Myers, it all comes down to one thing: “I think (students) need to get out and vote. They need to be educated.”

Contact administration reporter Ben Wolford at [email protected].