Obama On Higher Education

With a new president elected, each sector of society begins to examine how the new administration will impact our lives.  Today’s report from Inside Higher Education provides  a summary of President elect Obama’s views on the college world:

Many higher education leaders had hoped to see college issues, or education generally, emerge as a major issue in the 2008 race. That never quite happened. And with the war in Iraq and the collapse of the economy, that may not be surprising. But over the course of two years leading up to his election, Sen. Barack Obama has given many policy addresses and issued many proposals about education that may guide his work in office — at least after he deals with the economy, Iraq and Afghanistan. Here are some of the highlights:

Loan programs: Obama responded to a scandal last spring about student loan programs by proposing a series of reforms. In a May 2007 proposal, he called for eliminating subsidies to lenders and pushing all borrowing into the direct lending program. He said that eliminating subsidies would allow for a significant boost in support for Pell Grants. At around the same time Obama made his proposal, similar ideas were unveiled by Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, who were at that time emerging as top competitors in the race for the Democratic nomination. In part because all of the leading candidates were more sympathetic to direct lending than to the guaranteed loan program, and the Republicans at the time were largely ignoring higher education issues, there was little sustained debate about these proposals.

Access to higher education: While Obama started with a focus on loan programs, he went on to issue more detailed proposals on college access, saying repeatedly that he worried about the challenges families faced paying for college. Included in his college access plans:

  • A fully refundable tax credit to cover the first $4,000 in college costs — enough for two years of community college tuition in most cases — for everyone. The only requirement would be 100 hours of public service a year; this could be performed in the summer or between semesters.
  • Simplification of federal aid applications. (There has been some progress on this issue, which attracts bipartisan support, since Obama spoke on it and prior to the election.)
  • A pledge to keep Pell Grant maximums rising at the level of inflation or higher if possible.

Community colleges: Obama has proposed a new grant program that would provide funds to community colleges to conduct more thorough analysis of the types of skills and technical education that are in high demand from students and local businesses; to create new associate of arts degree programs that cater to emerging careers; and to reward institutions that graduate more students and also increase their numbers of transfer students to four-year institutions.

Science and technology: During the campaign, the president-elect repeatedly linked investments in science and technology to improvements in the economy, and he made a number of specific proposals. Obama has called for expanded financing of federal research programs, with special efforts for those academic scientists starting their careers; the creation of new programs to improve math and science education and to attract more students to them — with special efforts to recruit minority and female students to fields where they have been underrepresented; and special efforts to promote research and education related to climate change and health care. Obama has backed stem cell research and opposed Bush administration limits on such funds. Further, he has pledged to “restore the basic principle that government decisions should be based on the best-available, scientifically valid evidence and not on the ideological predispositions of agency officials or political appointees.” A more philosophical outline of Obama’s views on the link between education, science and economic competitiveness may be found in his speech in June at Kettering University.

Affirmative action: Obama has repeatedly said that affirmative action should not be eliminated, but he has suggested a combination of class and race as factors. In a 2007 interview with ABC, asked if his daughters will deserve affirmative action when they apply to college, he said that they “should probably be treated by any admissions officer as folks who are pretty advantaged.” Further, in Obama’s Philadelphia speech on race, he noted with sympathy the frustrations of some while people “when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed.” But in that speech, as in others, Obama has also repeatedly stressed that the economic and educational gaps between some minority individuals and others are real and need attention.

While presidential candidates prepare policies on issues such as education and research, they also end up speaking on other higher education issues when they are asked surprise questions on the campaign trail or in debates, or when they happen to be campaigning in an area that is focused on a particular issue. In these situations, Obama has:

Called for colleges to lift bans on Reserve Officers Training Corps programs. Obama opposes the military’s discriminatory policies against gay people — the source of much campus opposition to ROTC. But in an appearance at Columbia University in September, he said that “the notion that young people here at Columbia or anywhere, in any university, aren’t offered the choice, the option of participating in military service, I think is a mistake.”

Criticized the cost of college textbooks and professors who assign their own books. In an appearance in Texas, he said: “Books are a big scam…. I taught law at the University of Chicago for 10 years, and one of the biggest scams is law professors write their own text books and then assign it to their students. They make a mint. It’s a huge racket.”

Backed the right to attend community college for those without legal status to be in the United States. Obama spoke on this issue in North Carolina, where this has been the subject of much debate. In an interview, he said: “For us to deny them access to community college, even though they’ve never lived in Mexico, at least as far as they can tell … is to deny that this is how we’ve always built this country up.”

President Barack Obama

No matter how you voted, this is a remarkable and historic day.

Now, we come together under the leadership of President Obama, and Christians around the world need to be joining together in prayer for him and the new administration.

Tonight I am drawn to focus on four remarkable characteristics of this significant election:

  • It is remarkable that in an American presidential campaign issues are debated, differences drawn, emotions expressed – but after we vote, we remain the UNITED States of America.
  • It is remarkable the 44th President of the United States is an African American, and our country has come so far in racial issues from 1968 to 2008.
  • It is remarkable we can smoothly and peacefully transition the presidency during this time of unprecedented economic crisis and wars on two fronts.
  • It is remarkable we conducted the first US election of an era of true globalization, and have a president who is being enthusiastically welcomed by much of the world.

I trust you’ll join me in praying regularly for President Obama and Vice President Biden, and continue to support in prayer our leaders completing their time of public service, President Bush and Vice President Chaney.

Negative Voting

Tomorrow is an important day for Americans to vote. That right, as we know it today, is a rather recent addition in history.  The History of Voting on the web site ActiVote helps us appreciate the value of voting, and how far we’ve come as a society.

We tend to think that voting is a stable process, but as you can see from the history, and the future projections for changes to voting, it is an ever developing mechanism for democracy.

The frustration many of us have with the political process is  negative campaigning.  But at least that is not as bad as the negative voting, that was part of the early Greek system of democracy:

Ancient Greece had one of the earliest forms of democracy, since at least 508 BC. Each year, the Greeks had a negative election — voters were asked to cast a vote for the politician they most wanted to exile for ten years. Votes were written on broken pots, ostraka in Greek, and from this name comes our present word to ostracize.

If any politician received more than 6,000 votes then the one with the largest number was exiled. If no politician received 6,000 votes then all remained. If there was a fairly even spread of votes, nobody would get over 6,000 and no one would get exiled — hence only very unpopular politicians were ostracized and exiled.  Voting rights in ancient Greece were only for male landowners, so the number of voters was small.