On Aug. 12, Rep. Paul Ryan was announced as Mitt Romney’s running mate for the 2012 United States presidential election.
Known as a staunch fiscal conservative, he has become well-known for his budget plan, the “Roadmap for America,” which he released last year. Ryan’s appointment has been scrutinized from a number of different angles. Most focus on Ryan’s appeal to different groups and whether his candidacy will help or hinder the Romney campaign.
One demographic Romney and Ryan will absolutely target to some extent is college students, a group that came out heavily in favor of President Barack Obama in 2008. Youth tend to lean liberal, as do college students. Taking a chunk out of one of Obama’s key constituencies would go a long way towards securing the election for the Republican Party.
Unfortunately, on issues that are important to college students, Ryan’s record falls short. Based on his “Roadmap” budget plan and previous statements, Ryan has a poor record of supporting college students and higher education in general.
One issue Ryan comes up short in that resonates with nearly all students, and has been a key issue in the 2012 campaign, is student debt. This past May, the total student debt in the U.S. passed $1 trillion, and now exceeds the total credit card debt in the country. These unfortunate milestones brought the issue of student debt into the forefront of the national consciousness, and become a political issue for the Democrats and Republicans to grapple over.
Ryan’s “Roadmap” fails students on the issue of student debt because it slashes federal financial aid money, money many students rely on in order to get through college. Eligibility for Pell Grants would be severely tightened and students attending college part-time wouldn’t be able to receive Pell Grants at all.
The underlying theory behind these cuts is what should trouble students.
“The goal of federal financial aid is to make college more affordable, but there is growing evidence that wholesale increases in aid have had the opposite effect,” Ryan wrote in an editorial for the Wisconsin State Journal. “Instead of helping more students achieve their dreams, these increases are simply being absorbed by (and potentially enabling) large tuition increases.”
Ryan offers none of the “growing evidence” in his piece. Yet it is used as justification for the cuts to education in his “Roadmap,” portraying it as beneficial to college students despite the fact that many will no longer even attend college without their federal aid. This sugarcoating of the cuts to the budget is what makes it easy to overlook the drastic nature of the cuts.
Ryan also has publicly supported for-profit higher education, falling in line with the Republican Party’s traditional support for it. For-profit higher education has widely been criticized by the rest of the educational community for prioritizing making a profit before benefitting students.
According to a July 29 article in the New York Times, citing facts from a two-year congressional report led by Sen. Tom Harkin, “taxpayers spent $32 billion in the most recent year on companies that operate for-profit colleges, but the majority of students they enroll leave without a degree, half of those within four months.” Students at for-profit colleges are failed by the educational quality of the institutions yet still pay exorbitant amounts of tuition, plus fees, which becomes money that goes directly into the profit margins of the corporation running the institution.
The reason taxpayers are losing so much money on for-profit colleges is because for-profit colleges rely largely on federal aid to make money. Specifically, for-profit colleges rely on federal student aid programs for nearly 90 percent of their revenue. Bizarrely, this is the same federal student aid money that Ryan’s “Roadmap” would see the federal government cut. The two seemingly incongruous positions reveal Ryan’s poor understanding of the issues surrounding higher education.
The most recent Gallup polls indicate that Romney was trailing Obama in voters aged between 18 and 29 years old, the ages of the majority of undergraduate and grad students, by a sizable margin: 57 percent in support for Obama, compared to only 35 percent for Romney.
Ryan’s record for higher education and for college students should do nothing to change that.
Billy Rainsford is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.