Students Should Make Their Votes Count In November

Tracey King is the higher education associate at U.S. PIRG. Respond at [email protected]

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It is becoming more and more difficult for low-income students to afford a college education. In the last 30 years, while college tuition has skyrocketed, low-income families' earnings have declined. As a result, college is becoming less accessible to these families. As college students, we represent those who have made it, and we must play a role to ensure that every young person has the same opportunity.

Although not a major issue in the past, student aid is receiving a great deal of attention during the current presidential and congressional campaigns.

The attention given to higher education and student aid not only demonstrates the importance and urgency of the problem, but also reflects the public's insistence that something be done. As more students, parents, and universities have voiced their concerns, both parties have increasingly included student aid as a major issue in the presidential campaign. Both candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore are proposing student aid programs that would increase student access to higher education.

These proposals are important in that they reflect the general public's desire to make college more affordable. And they do make college more affordable - for the middle class. However, these programs would not significantly increase the accessibility of college to low-income students. Tax-free savings accounts and pre-paid tuition plans do not benefit those who cannot contribute significant amounts of money. Furthermore, tax-related aid does not provide immediate assistance to the student; instead, it provides parents with a higher tax return at the end of the year.

Low-income students need aid up front. Many low-income students are independently paying for college and do not benefit from the savings plans. Moreover, they cannot afford to wait until the next year to get a tax return. As a result, we should support increased Pell grants and better student loan programs. These programs truly assist those students that need the most help.

Any action to make higher education more accessible to students is welcome, and the attention given to the issue in the current campaign is a wonderful sign that student voices are being heard. However, more can and needs to be done.

Students have been fundamental to past accomplishments in student aid increases. Congress is poised to increase the maximum Pell grant from $3,300 to $3,650. With the importance higher education has in this campaign, we have every reason to believe we can achieve much more in the upcoming years.

Whether to reward the candidates for paying such attention to the issue of student aid or to hold them accountable once elected, it is important that students vote in the upcoming election. Whatever your preference for party, platform, or politician, it seems like your presence at the polls can make a difference for higher education.


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