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College Affordability Seen as Overlooked But Potent Issue in Presidential Contest, NEA Survey Finds


The skyrocketing cost of college represents an important but overlooked issue for voters in this year’s national election, according to a survey sponsored by the National Education Association (NEA).

The survey, commissioned by the NEA for its Project New West polling outreach, revealed that a majority of survey participants said college affordability is a national issue and the federal government should play a major role in addressing rising tuition costs. The Project New West polling was undertaken late this past summer and included a high representation, or oversamples, of parents and students as well as Hispanics to reflect their growing numbers in the United States.

“In the midst of the current economic turmoil, it has been easy to lose sight of the difficulty faced by thousands of low- and middle-income families when determining how they can possibly afford college. This survey reflects that those difficult discussions are not lost upon the majority of American families who are forced to make tough choices that not only impact their children’s future, but the future of America in terms of our global competitiveness,” said Robert M. Brandon, the national coordinator of the Campaign for College Affordability, which is backed by the NEA and several other national organizations.

According to the survey, a majority of voters consider a college education necessary for workers to make ends meet in the global economy, and they believe that struggling middle class families don’t get the help they need to pay for it. Among the parents of college students included in the survey, 70 percent indicated that making college more affordable represented a critical issue to them in next month’s election and 34 percent said it was the most important issue for them. Sixty-five percent of current college students in the survey said college affordability is important to them and 34 percent indicated that they considered it the most important election issue.

Both presidential candidates have stressed college affordability in their campaigns. By a margin of nearly two to one, those surveyed preferred Sen. Barack Obama’s plan to establish a $4,000 a year tax credit for tuition and fees if a student commits to providing 100 hours annually of public service over Sen. John McCain’s plan to expand lender-of-last-resort financing options by state guarantee agencies.

The study also found that:

• Seventy-eight percent of those surveyed said it is now more difficult to afford a college education than it was a decade earlier;

• Sixty-four percent said higher education is no longer a luxury; it’s necessary to make ends meet;

• Sixty-four percent believe that the middle class doesn’t get enough help paying for college.

• “Candidates should take note: the rising cost of college is a potent ingredient in the economic anxiety brewing within the electorate, especially politically undecided parents. With the cost of college tuition rising faster than personal income, consumer prices, and health insurance, it’s no wonder college affordability is shaping up to be the sleeper pocketbook issue of the 2008 campaign,” contends Dennis Van Roekel, the NEA president.

• The NEA is the nation’s largest teachers’ organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers. The NEA/Project New West was a survey of 825 likely voters augmented by the following oversamples: 160 geographic interviews and interviews with 460 current college students, 476 recent college graduates, 683 individuals with student loans, 487 parents of college students, and 335 Hispanics.

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