Lieberman, Dean Announce Higher Education Plans Tuition assistance, increased funding at center of both proposals
By Ben Hammer and news wires
Democratic Presidential candidates Joe Lieberman and Howard Dean announced higher education plans last month aimed at increasing college access and funding resources.
The Connecticut senator’s plan sets a goal that by the year 2020, at least 90 percent of students with a high-school diploma will go on to the military, college or a vocational school, and that at least 90 percent of the students who start college will finish with a bachelor’s degree within six years or an associate’s degree within three years.
“This is a pass or fail test for America and for the promise of equal opportunity for which we stand,” Lieberman said. “It’s fair to say this is the next threshold of the civil rights movement. When I am president, we’re not going to be satisfied with incremental progress.”
One feature of Lieberman’s plan is to increase tuition assistance for lower-income families in the form of Pell Grants. The plan would increase the maximum Pell Grant available from $4,050 to $6,150 in 2004-2005 to $7,760 in 2008-2009. His plan would also change the current law so that Pell Grant eligibility will not count against a family’s eligibility for tuition tax credits, allowing lower-income families with some tax liability to also benefit from tax credits.
Another part of Lieberman’s plan builds on his belief that “affirmative action is a critical tool to create a level-playing field and give all students a fair chance to succeed.” In support of this, Lieberman would direct his education secretary to help states and schools construct constitutionally permissible affirmative action admissions programs.
In announcing his plan, Lieberman criticized President Bush for underfunding the No Child Left Behind Act by $6 billion. The plan said the Lieberman administration would fully fund the act and other important programs that focus on narrowing the achievement gap between White and minority students.
Another element of Lieberman’s plan is to fund partnerships between schools and community-based organizations that facilitate the transition from high school to college for first-generation college-going students. The programs would offer students assistance in completing college applications and applying for financial aid. It would also train some high-school teachers to also serve as college-application advisers.
Several provisions in the plan seek to increase the accountability of higher education institutions that receive federal assistance. Those public institutions that demonstrate a significant increase in enrollment and graduation rates of low-income and minority students would receive “college completion credits,” which would be disbursed in the form of additional funding targeted for need-based aid to low-income students.
To increase retention and graduation rates, Lieberman would provide challenge grants to four-year public higher education institutions in order to improve support programs for low-income and minority students.
The plan further requires public and private colleges and universities that receive federal funds to make public their enrollment and graduation rates broken down by income and race. The U.S. Department of Education will publish those statistics annually. Similarly, Lieberman’s plan requires that local elementary and secondary school districts publish the higher education enrollment rates of their high-school graduates, also broken down by income and race.
Expanding on his “Tech Talent” program that passed into law last year, the Lieberman plan would fully fund the college-grant program in order to significantly increase the number of math, science and engineering majors. The plan is designed to reward schools that increase the number of minority graduates in these fields.
A $10,000 guarantee
Dean’s plan features at least $10,000 per year for postsecondary education, income-based caps on student loan repayments and an enlargement of the AmeriCorps program.
Dean said that although his plan does not offer specific features targeted at minority communities, it would boost opportunity for all Americans, especially since Latinos and African Americans have higher high school dropout rates and lower rates of college enrollment.
The former Vermont governor said he would pay for the estimated $7.1 billion cost of his plan by repealing the Bush tax cuts, a move that would have to be approved by the Republican-controlled Congress. Dean said if Congress would not repeal the tax cuts, his administration would make their inaction a centerpiece of the Democrats’ attempt to retake control of the House and Senate in the midterm elections.
“When I am president, I will seek real change in the way we approach higher education. And I will make a fundamental commitment to our children: that every one of them will be able to afford to go to college if they commit to work hard, stay in school and graduate from high school,” Dean said in a statement.
The centerpiece of Dean’s plan is a guarantee of at least $10,000 in grants and loans for use at a four-year college, a two-year college or for high-skills training. Recipients would pay back 10 percent of their income after college on student loan repayments. Those already in the work force would receive tax credits for future student loan payments that are in excess of 10 percent of their income.
Recipients of federal funds who become nurses, teachers, social workers, police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) in high-need areas would only pay 7 percent of their income. Regardless of the rate at which they pay back their loans under the new plan, if they work and make the payments for 10 years, the loans will be paid in full.
Dean’s plan also offers incentives for public service. It would increase the number of AmeriCorps positions to 250,000. Of that number, 50,000 would be dedicated to new front public safety national service programs, including opportunities to serve for two years as firefighters, EMTs, and forest and park service rangers.
“Students who normally wouldn’t be able to pursue public service careers, because they’d be saddled with debt, will now be able to follow their dreams after college,” Dean said. “It will also encourage students to enter fields like nursing and teaching where our country is facing shortages.”
The Dean plan also features several measures that are meant to prepare middle- and high-school students for college. In eighth grade, students would develop a plan that outlines the courses they need to take in high school. Families would receive an early determination of their eligibility for federal financial aid. They would also have assistance in developing a savings plan for college expenses.
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