Friday, September 5, 2008

Major candidates on higher education

A look at the major party platforms for higher education
While not much has been said about higher education during the presidential campaign, now that the Democratic and Republican national conventions are over, here’s a quick look at what the two major political party candidates have been saying about the topic.

Sen. John McCain said in his acceptance address to the Republican delegates Thursday night that he will work to make better use of community colleges to train workers for new high-skill jobs. He has also promised to crack down on what he defines as pork-barrel spending, which includes earmarks, and said he would publicize the names of lawmakers who insert earmarks into spending bills. McCain also touched on public education in his speech, calling it the "civil-rights issue of this century." He said he would fight for school choice and push to attract and reward good teachers.

Sen. McCain’s existing position on higher education policy taken from his Web site says that the United States needs to be prepared for the 21st century in higher education, and America is facing increased competition from overseas like never before. His position states that higher education is as much a part of that competition as the job sector, and we must rise to the challenge and modernize our universities so that they retain their status as producers of the most skilled workforce in the world.

Sen. McCain also has said he would like to simplify higher education tax benefits, because the existing benefits are too complicated, and therefore many eligible families do not claim them. He also wants to simplify the federal financial aid program. He has said the application process is too complicated, which deters many eligible students from seeking financial aid. The number of programs also makes it more difficult for financial aid officers to help students navigate the process. McCain has said that consolidating programs will help simplify the administration of these programs and help more students have a better understanding of their eligibility for aid.

Democrat presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama’s Web site talks about creating the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Sen. Obama has said he will make college affordable for all Americans by creating a new American Opportunity Tax Credit. This credit will ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans and will cover two-thirds the cost of tuition at the average public college or university and make community college tuition completely free for most students. Obama also has said he will ensure that the tax credit is available to families at the time of enrollment by using prior year's tax data to deliver the credit when tuition is due.

Sen. Obama also wants to simplify the application process for financial aid by eliminating the current federal financial aid application and enabling families to apply by checking a box on their tax form, authorizing their tax information to be used and eliminating the need for a separate application.

Congress returns Monday
Congressional members will return to Washington on Monday after a month-long recess in August for district work. No progress is anticipated in the federal budget this year, and with a targeted adjournment date of Sept. 26, it is very likely we will not see a new budget until after a new president takes office in January. If that is the case, Congress will have to finance government through a series of continuing resolutions. For higher education, the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education bill, one of the 12 appropriation bills, also will be on hold. The 111th United States Congress is scheduled to begin on Jan. 3. No calendar has yet been set.

Constitution Day approaching
To commemorate the signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787, all colleges and universities that receive federal financial aid are required to provide an educational program on the Constitution. The U.S. Department of Education is responsible for implementing the Constitution Day legislative mandates and can assist in program planning. The Department’s Web page provides links to federal Web sites that contain materials that can be publicly accessed for general use or for use as teaching materials in the classroom. Additional information can be found at here.

Register, learn, engage and vote in the upcoming election
The primary is quickly approaching, with folks heading to the polls next Tuesday. The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities has created a 2008 Election Resource Guide available here to assist new and returning voters in the election process and to provide campus communities with information on the upcoming election.

Four major components make up the site: register, learn, engage and vote. The register page explains how to register for the upcoming election. The learn page provides information on local candidates and facts about the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. On the engage page, users learn what election-related activities are happening on their campuses, and the vote page allows voters to locate their polling place and find out what hours the polls are open. Students, faculty and staff can gain new ideas about how to promote voting this fall by viewing the Election 2008 PowerPoint included on the site’s engage page, and there are guidelines on hosting on-campus election-related events.

If you have questions or would like to provide feedback or information on upcoming events, please contact Candi Walz at

Publications recently made available
The Minnesota House of Representatives Research Department recently posted new publications on its Web site. You can learn more about saving for college, the University of Minnesota Regents, and economic forecasts, budget surpluses and shortfalls by clicking on the links below.

Saving for College: 529 Plans and Income Tax Policy

Election of University of Minnesota Regents

Economic Forecasts, Budget Surpluses, and Budget Shortfalls

2008 Open Appointments
The Secretary of State's Office this week released the monthly notice of vacancies that have occurred in multimember state agencies. In accordance with the Minnesota Open Appointments Law, the Secretary of State acts as an administrator in publishing vacancies, receiving applications and recording appointments. Applications submitted by Sept. 23, 2008, will receive full consideration by the appointing authority. You can find the 2007 Open Appointments Annual Report online at This publication includes a complete listing of state boards and councils that follow the Open Appointments process, descriptions of these agencies and their memberships, and statistical information about appointments and vacancies during the 2007 fiscal year.