We all hear the phrase “poor college student.” Many students at MSU have not only heard the phrase, but lived it. With the upcoming election, higher education is an issue on the forefront of students’ minds. Last year, MSU’s tuition rose 6.8 percent, which meant an extra $639 for in-state students. As the cost of tuition keeps rising, students are becoming more interested in what the presidential candidates are going to do to make going to college more of a bargain than a burden.
Out of the 46,045 students enrolled at MSU 36,741 are on financial aid, according to the 2007-2008 data from the Financial Aid Office. Because of the current economic crisis, Val Meyers, associate director of the MSU office of financial aid, estimates that applications for financial aid are up 5 to 6 percent.
Louie Glinzak, press secretary for MSU College Republicans, says Sen. John McCain has the right idea when it comes to higher education. As the economy continues its downward spiral, higher education will become more of a commodity and the financially needy student category will become larger. McCain plans to target those students with financial aid and federal opportunities. Because of Michigan’s difficult times, MSU students could be directly affected by these programs. [caitlin]
“Our state has been in hard economic times for six to seven years,” Glinzak said. “These programs will directly help Michigan State students because a large population of students are from the state of Michigan.”
Sen. Barack Obama also understands the importance of achieving higher education. In addition to streamlining the FAFSA form he has promised a $4,000 dollar tax credit to students who complete 100 hours of public service a year. This plan will make community college completely free to students and will also cover the cost of about two-thirds tuition for the average college or university. At his MSU rally on Oct. 2, Obama told listeners that students involved in the Peace Corps or ROTC would also receive this $4,000 dollar stipend.
Ryan Thompson, a sophomore majoring in political science-prelaw, got involved in ROTC as a senior in high school. ROTC is an intense leadership program for students who want to be Army officers in the future. By signing up for this program, Thompson received a four-year scholarship which covers tuition, gives him a monthly stipend and pays for his books.
“I had wanted to serve my country for a long time, probably since I was a kid,” Thompson said. “The program gave me opportunities to serve, while paying for my education.”
Students in the ROTC have physical training three times a week, complete training exercises and attend a military science course once a week. The cadets in the program will not go to war until they complete their education.
“To be an officer in the US Army, you must have a bachelor’s degree,” Thompson said. “After I graduate I could go to war, it depends on what branch of the Army I go into, or whether they need more troops overseas.”
Although Obama’s plan could benefit Thompson, he does not publicly support any candidate.
“My obligation as a U.S. soldier is to follow orders by the president of the United States, it is in the oath every soldier takes when he joins or contracts,” Thompson said. “It’s a verbal contract, and since integrity is one of the seven Army values, I will serve the next commander in chief, no matter who it is.”
McCain offers some ideas for financial aid reform, he opposes any merit-based tax credit, $4,000 or otherwise. The McCain campaign believes that the $4000 tax credit is unrealistic and would put the country in debt.
“At this point there is already a tax credit available and the people who see it are on an individualized income separate from their parents,” Glinzak said. “This credit would severely put our country in debt.”
Adam Gitlin, a volunteer for Students for Barack Obama, said that Obama would also like to increase the maximum limits for Pell Grants for low-income students. A Pell Grant is a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and gives monetary grants to students in college. At this point in the time the maximum amount a student can receive from a Pell Grant is $5,800. Education is an important part of Obama’s campaign and he has been working toward achieving better education programs since he was a community organizer. “Sen. Obama has demonstrated his ability to lead in [education], and that is why he enjoys the support of so many working class families,” Gitlin said.
Both Obama and McCain want to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) so it is less complicated for students to fill out. Making the FAFSA easier is something the higher education community has been talking about for a long time, said Meyers.
“I can see how eight pages of questions might discourage people who really need money from applying,” Meyers said.
While fixing the FAFSA form may not be the solution to all the problems surrounding higher education funding, it would be a step in the right direction. Meyers recommends an easy FAFSA form which would parallel the streamlined income tax form, the 1040EZ. People who do not have a complicated financial history would be able to fill out the easy FAFSA form. However, the simplification could hurt some students. [val]
“The problem with a simplified FAFSA is if you don’t have a simple financial history you don’t necessarily get the big picture of what type of aid you need,” Meyers said. “What is a good idea is the easy FAFSA for very financially simple people.”
Lorraine Findlan, a sophomore dietetics major, supports the candidates’ idea to make FAFSA easier to follow.
Findlan filled out the form for the first time last January because her dad passed away. In her family her dad provided the only source of income so she hoped to receive some money from the government in order to continue paying for school.
“Having to find all my parents’ tax information was difficult,” Findlan said. “If you didn’t have a parent to help out it’s almost impossible to fill out.”
After filling out the form, Findlan did not receive any money and she hopes that whoever is elected will also redefine who is eligible to receive financial aid.
“I didn’t get anything from it either which just goes to show the questions aren’t appropriate because students who need the money don’t necessarily get it,” Findlan said.
For many MSU students, this is the first presidential election in which they are able to vote and higher education is a big-ticket issue. With MSU recently announcing an additional tuition rise of 1.2 percent for the upcoming years, aid is quickly becoming a prominent issue for students and parents alike. The dismal economy is making financing a college education close to impossible for many. Students in school now are banking on one candidate or the other to whip out America’s checkbook and lend them a little cash.