Higher education may not be a priority for most voters this election year, but the nation’s decision on Nov. 2 will have an impact on university issues ranging from research funding to financial aid.
Yale President Richard Levin said it is University policy to not endorse political candidates. But Levin said he and other University officers have closely followed the current administration’s policies, specifically those affecting education and research, and will continue to carefully review the policies of the administration leading the country after Election Day.
“Both candidates are, I think, supportive of higher education,” Levin said.
Sen. John Kerry ’66 and President George W. Bush ’68 are both in favor of reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, federal legislation that authorizes student-aid programs and regulations which apply to colleges and universities. Congress, which periodically reviews the act, will consider it again this spring before sending it to the president for approval.
But the candidates have different platforms on financial aid.
Bush supports increasing federal funding for Pell Grants, which would save Yale money because the University takes these grants into account when it determines financial aid awards. He also proposes creating a fund to provide $100 million in grants to low-income students studying math and science, increasing funding for colleges with mostly minority students, raising loan limits for first-year students and instituting loan forgiveness for math, science and special-education teachers.
“His proposal reflects his commitment to make colleges more affordable for students,” said Brian Farnen, executive director of Connecticut Victory 2004, the state’s Republican campaign organization.
Kerry’s proposals include an expanded national service program, similar to AmeriCorps, to provide four years of financial aid for 500,000 students who after graduating first work for two years in jobs that are important to the nation, such as teaching in troubled schools, building affordable housing and improving homeland security. The Kerry campaign has also proposed extending current tuition tax credits to people who pay little or no taxes.
Representatives for the Kerry campaign were not available for comment Thursday.
Levin said increased tax credits would benefit some parents but would have little effect on Yale because the University already meets full demonstrated need for all students.
“We believe that without the credit being extended, we’ve made every effort for Yale to be affordable,” Levin said.
Federal research funding is another election issue the University will be monitoring, because Yale receives hundreds of millions of dollars in research assistance from Washington, D.C., every year, Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said. In the wake of an increasing federal budget deficit, both Bush and Kerry have committed themselves to cutting discretionary spending. Levin said he expects there will be pressure on the government to cut research spending.
“I think if America wants to maintain its competitive advantage in science, which leads to a major competitive advantage in the economy, it needs to think more aggressively about science funding than either candidate is now inclined to,” Levin said.
Yale Students for Bush chairman Robert Chung ’06 said although Kerry’s plan provides immediate returns, Bush’s proposals will pay off in the future.
“Costs right now might be high, but in the future the economic returns might be higher because [Bush's plan] encourages people to study the sciences and mathematics, which this country is lacking in some respects,” Chung said.
Basha Rubin ’07, issues coordinator for the Yale College Democrats, said she was concerned that Bush’s financial aid plan neglected middle-class needs.
“Clearly it’s really important to give money to low-income students, but I think it’s also important to focus on the middle class, who aren’t getting that much financial aid,” Rubin said.
Bush is currently expected to sign a bill closing an existing loophole that gives subsidies to banks funding student loans. The bill will close the loophole for one year; Kerry has pushed for a permanent closing of the loophole in his campaign, saying that the savings would fund his national service program.