Four years ago, President Barack Obama led a historic campaign to the White House. At a time of economic downturn, two ongoing wars abroad, and deepening partisan deadlock, Americans put their trust in the leadership of a charismatic African-American junior senator from Illinois who united thousands around the singular, dynamic idea of “Change.”
While at the time most current Columbia undergraduates were not eligible to vote, the energy and excitement of the election, particularly for students, still remains in our memories. Iconic images like the “Yes We Can” slogan and the “Hope” poster flooded our inboxes, Facebook walls, and Twitter feeds, as students throughout the country felt the presence of the election in their lives like never before. Obama’s promise for change and progress brought out record numbers of students to vote. Not only did Obama capture the largest share of votes from voters under 30 in recent history at 66 percent, but he also inspired the largest turnout rate of young voters since 1972, the year the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.
In the four years since that election, we have had a chance to evaluate Obama’s politics and leadership. As we look around today, the stakes and situation are far different. A large part of this election will be a referendum on the president’s first term: Does the Obama administration’s direction on health care, the economy, and foreign policy still appeal to us, or would Mitt Romney and a Republican administration offer a better alternative? Have Obama’s promises of “hope” and “change” turned out to be empty rhetoric?
While we leave much of that for the reader to decide, in our position as Columbia undergraduates, we endorse Barack Obama for a second term, as his policies show greater promise for the interests of college students, institutions of higher education, and the American university system.
Making college affordable
President Obama has shown a commitment to making undergraduate higher education as affordable as possible. During his first four years in office, Obama doubled funding for Pell Grants—federal aid to low-income families sending their children to institutions of higher education—and his 2013 budget proposal increases funds for Federal Work-Study programs by 15 percent. In addition, the Obama administration has shown that it sympathizes with students as they shoulder the burden of student loans. Obama was instrumental in keeping the federal student loan rate from doubling to 6 percent this summer and his administration proposed to give students more flexibility in paying back their loans with the “Pay as You Earn” plan.
On the other hand, Romney has mostly stayed silent on concrete education policy positions, which raises questions about his prioritization of federal programs for funding college education. Meanwhile, Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan gives us reason to doubt his plans for making college affordable. The 2013 congressional budget, compiled while Ryan was chairman of the House Budget Committee and endorsed by Romney, recommends drastically cutting funding for Pell Grants, so much so that some estimate that it would make more than 1 million students ineligible for Pell Grants in the next decade. Those who do qualify would receive less aid, as his proposal includes a recommendation to “adopt a sustainable maximum award” of $5,500 (the current limit) for a decade and refuses to adjust for either inflation or rises in tuition. Obama has demonstrated his dedication to providing opportunities in higher education to all Americans regardless of income, and the same cannot be said for the Romney-Ryan ticket.
Continuing federal support
In addition to providing greater access to higher education at a more affordable rate, Obama is more likely to support institutions like Columbia in a way that will ensure their continued success, as University President Lee Bollinger told Spectator in a recent interview. We have historical and empirical reasons to believe that American universities benefit from strong federal support. The modern American research university owes a great deal to federal government initiatives to fund cutting-edge research. The uniquely American link between research and education still contributes directly to the international stature of American universities and Columbia is no small beneficiary.
The latest data from the National Science Foundation shows that Columbia received over $667 million in federal research grants in the 2009 fiscal year. Only four other institutions received more money. Columbia’s annual operating budget is roughly $3 billion. Without support from the federal government, academics will be hard-pressed to find sources of funding for their research and universities like Columbia, with weaker research arms, stand to suffer enormously in their educational project. On an ideological level, we see federal government support for higher education as crucial. The principles of small government simply will not work for America’s universities.
Since the conservative resurgence of Ronald Reagan, America has watched both federal and state funding for higher education diminish. Romney will seek to continue this trend, as his five-point plan for the country mentions education but is lacking in any sort of substance on the matter. The heart of it, an eight-page paper coauthored by four economists—including Columbia and Harvard professors Glenn Hubbard and Gregory Mankiw—is titled “The Romney Plan for Economic Recovery, Growth, and Jobs” and does not discuss education at all. Romney has made few concrete proposals on higher education policy and the little information that is available, including a brief mention of “welcoming private sector participation,” would hint that Romney will cut spending toward higher education. We also wonder if “private sector participation” hints at Romney’s proposal to cede some control over federal student loans to private banks.
The better candidate
We acknowledge that Barack Obama’s four years as president have been far from perfect. However, as undergraduates at Columbia, we find his past policies and campaign platform to be significantly more promising than the alternative, at least for students, colleges and universities, and higher education as a whole.
Additionally, given that we are a group of college-aged students on a campus that embraces diversity, liberal ideology, and student activism, we sympathize with Obama’s social policies. We find moral reasons to support legislation from expanded health care to the legalization of gay marriage to the DREAM Act. For example, as college students still largely reliant on our parents’ health insurance plans, we embrace the provision in Obama’s health care plan allowing us to remain on it until we are 26.
Today, however, we arrive at our endorsement of Barack Obama independent of these reasons. We endorse Barack Obama for president because a second Obama term will better provide for us as students, our educational institutions, and the students who will inhabit them after we graduate.
Editor’s note: The views of this editorial solely represent the views of the individuals on the editorial board, not the Spectator Publishing Company.
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