WASHINGTON — Responding to public outrage about soaring college costs, a sharp rise in college loan interest rates and cuts to federal college aid programs, many organizations and activists are mobilizing voters across the nation to make college affordability a critical issue in November’s midterm elections. These organizations represent millions of students, parents, recent college graduates and educators.
Citizen groups around the country are working to increase dialogue on college affordability and to press candidates to share their positions on the issue. Groups including the Campaign for America’s Future, the US Student Association, USAction, Campus Progress at the Center for American Progress and the National Education Association are releasing reports, launching online campaigns, communicating with the public and holding events at college campuses and in hundreds of communities to raise public awareness about this critical issue.
A new poll released last month by Young Voter Strategies reveals that education and college affordability are the top issues concerning young voters heading into the November midterm elections. With fully three-quarters of respondents indicating that a candidate’s position on college affordability is important in determining their vote, young voters will be holding Congress accountable at the ballot box this November.
“As students are heading into midterm exams with record-high debt burdens, members of Congress are entering their midterms with a similarly formidable challenge,” said Robert Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future. “How can they defend their votes for the largest cut ever to college aid programs in the face of the exploding cost of college? It’s going to be a hard test to pass.”
Since 2000, the average cost of attending a four-year public college has increased over 40 percent, causing millions of students to forgo college, drop out or incur serious debt. Yet earlier this year, Congress cut $12 billion in student aid, allowed interest rates on college loans to spike, and failed to raise the maximum Pell grant.
“Students are suffering the consequences of policies that place even more barriers between them and the college education they need to succeed in today’s competitive global economy,” said Jennifer Pae, United States Student Association president. “As students are forced to spend thousands of more dollars due to increasing college costs, stagnant financial aid levels, and the largest cuts in the history of the student loan programs, students across the country are taking education and college affordability as their issue to mobilize around this election.”
With four weeks until the elections, groups around the country are calling attention to the importance of college affordability and candidates’ voting records and positions on the issue.
USAction affiliates in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, West Virginia and Wisconsin are leading a series of public events to demand that Congress invest in America’s future by making critical new commitments to America’s students. USAction is also coordinating similar activities with partners in Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere with help from national allies in the Emergency Campaign for America’s Priorities (ECAP).
The Campaign for America’s Future released a report last month, based on new Census data, finding that the full cost of college for one year at a public university now consumes 25 percent of the annual median household income in America. The report also includes a record of key college affordability votes along with a letter grade for each member of Congress based on their voting record. The United States Student Association (USSA) is running the Students Vote 2006 Campaign in six key states, California, Florida, Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, to register, educate and turn out students on Election Day.
USSA is also urging the Department of Education to prioritize the needs of students when making changes to student loan programs, the SMART/ACG grants and the Higher Education Act. USSA is holding press conferences and collecting student debt stories to emphasize the failure of our government’s priorities on education. This student advocacy group will also be providing testimonials at the Negotiated Rule Making hearings on November 2 at the Royal Pacific Hotel Conference Center in Orlando, Florida, and November 8 at the Department of Education office in Washington, D.C.
The national USSA Board of Directors will also be heading to the Hill on October 19 to ensure that Congress will maintain its promise for a $7 billion increase to the Labor HHS bill to maintain its current funds for higher education programs and to suppress the Voter ID bill which disenfranchises student voters.
Campus Progress, working with its network of students across the country, has launched a nationwide “Debt Hits Hard” campaign. They’re pressing for three key changes: ending corporate welfare that wastes billions of taxpayer dollars in subsidies to banks; easing the debt burden on students and families by cutting student loan interest rates in half; and making financial aid more effective and accessible for American families by raising the maximum Pell Grant to $5,100 and raising awareness of financial aid resources in low-income communities. Student campaigns will focus on letter-writing and campus speaking events and will utilize three hard-hitting videos produced by Campus Progress. For more information and to view the videos, visit www.DebtHitsHard.org
The College Democrats of America launched an online resource guide last month, enabling students to participate in “Reverse the Raid on Student Aid” programming. The resource guide equips College Democrats with the tools they need to host events on their campuses. The goals of these programs are to raise issue awareness, increase membership, and allow students to take an active role the passage of HR 5150, which would cut interest rates on college loans in half. Young Democrats of America’s chapters will host three Political Action Days, including Election Day November 7, to educate young people on issues such as college affordability and to get young people to the polls to vote for change.
Student groups around the country are inviting members of Congress to their campuses to discuss college affordability. Students at Indiana University, Ohio State University, the University of Connecticut, Georgetown University and the University of Pennsylvania have already helped to increase political dialogue in this way.