As part of his weeklong “Change Starts with U: Kerry Campus Tour 2004” campaign, presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry ’66 held a conference call with college students from across the country Tuesday afternoon.

Kerry focused primarily on the importance of fiscal responsibility and how it relates to an issue that is far too familiar for young people today: rising college tuition levels. Kerry said it was “unconscionable” that, as a result of President George W. Bush ’68’s tax cuts, assistance for state and federal loan programs has decreased. He said tuition levels have increased 28 percent over the past three years, and that 220,000 young people have been “priced out” of college this year alone.

“States are getting less money from the federal government, and tuitions have made up the difference,” Kerry said.

Kerry said he wants to responsibly invest in education in order to reverse the $200 billion shortfall due to Bush’s economic policy. He said he wants to provide more opportunities for young people to attend college, through policies such as increased federal aid and tax credits to pay for tuition. He has also proposed a plan that would offer tuition assistance to students who dedicated two years after high school to community service.

Judith B. Greiman, president of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges (CCIC), said the cost of education has been very high in recent years. She said there are ways for universities, such as those in the CCIC, to work together to save costs, but that need-based federal funding for students is not nearly at the level it should be.

“Personally, I’d rather see things put into need-based financial aid than in tax cuts, based on the fact that we need desperately to increase funds” she said.

But Sharon Castillo, a spokesperson for Bush-Cheney ’04, said Bush has always had a strong commitment to higher education, especially for those in need of financial assistance. For example, Bush requested budget increases for the Pell Grant program and strengthened programs that use tax credits to supplement tuition costs.

Al Jiwa ’06, executive director of the Yale College Republicans, said while he thought increasing college enrollment was very important, Kerry’s two-year community service plan to help students pay tuition seems unreasonable.

“In theory, it sounds fantastic. However, I don’t know where we are going to get the money to fund all of this,” Jiwa said. “At this stage, I think Kerry’s plan is just rhetoric.”

In addition to higher education, Kerry also said gains could be made in health care, Social Security, and employment through fiscally responsible policies — including a rollback of Bush’s tax cuts to the wealthy. He said he would create 10 million new jobs over the course of the next four years, in part through focusing resources on discoveries in technology and renewable and alternative energy research.

“There’s a direct choice in this race, and it’s a choice between common sense and a failed economic policy,” Kerry said.

Kerry also stressed the importance of young people in the upcoming presidential election. Citing student activism in the 1960s as an example, he encouraged students to get more involved in political issues.

“Young people have this enormous power and they really have to understand it and embrace it and go out and use it,” Kerry said.

Kerry has given speeches at the University of New Hampshire and the University of Rhode Island this week and will finish up his college campus tour with visits to the City College of New York and the University of Pittsburgh.