In my first post to this 2012 Election Blog, I warned you of my “rookie” status to both blogging and politics, specifically the politics of higher education. I was not someone who had ever really taken the time to analyze political issues, like the one discussed in this blog, and figure out how these issues had an impact in my life. As a first time voter in this year’s exciting Presidential Election, I was proud to consider myself an informed voter who chose the candidate I supported based on my knowledge of their positions and not based on who my friends or family told me to vote for.
Over the course of the month in which I have posted in this blog, I have learned to think not only about how the increasing costs of higher education are a pain to both graduate and undergraduate students but also about how these costs are detrimental to the American economy. As tuition costs for both public and private universities have continuously increased in recent years, many young adults and their parents paying for their education have begun to question what a college degree is worth. In other words, students and parents question whether or not the financial returns provided by a college degree after graduation are worth the cost of 4 years of tuition, housing, and textbooks. With the earnings from a Bachelor’s degree proving to be $50,000 less than the cost of tuition, room, and board as recently as two years ago in 2010, many people are turning down the chance to attend college and entering America’s workforce with only a high school degree. This decrease in the amount of high-level education in the American workforce is beginning to threaten the United States’ position in the world as a place of educational leadership. A smaller amount of workers who hold college degrees has also shown to be detrimental to America’s ability to compete in the global economy as well as lead to 3.3 million jobs in the U.S. going unfilled because employers say they cannot find enough qualified workers.
My analysis of how rising tuition costs are beginning to limit the number of people attending college as well as the capabilities of America’s workforce also led me to recognize the importance of what type of training and learning should be taking place in higher education institutions. Due in large part to state appropriations for colleges falling by 7.6% from 2011 to 2012, many colleges and universities have found themselves being forced to cut costs by eliminating or decreasing the amount of training offered in the technical, engineering, and health care fields. Unfortunately, these are the fields in which training needs to be stressed because workers with experience in these areas of study are currently in high demand. With cut backs in funding, higher education institutions are finding it more difficult to provide the necessary training to students so that they are able to build a career after graduation. By recognizing the importance of job training needing to take place in colleges, I found myself shifting from unsure about which presidential candidate I would vote for to not having a doubt in my mind. I stated in my first post that I was in support of President Obama’s higher education policies but I became fully confident in this decision after learning of President Obama’s plan to increase job-training programs in community colleges as well as partner businesses with community colleges to prepare students for jobs right after graduation. My support for President Obama was also strengthened by his commitment to invest more than $40 billion into the Pell Grant program through the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act which will increase the number of students able to attend college who previously could not. Furthermore, President Obama’s “Pay As You Earn” student loan reform which caps the amount that graduates pay back on their loans each month at 10% of their income appealed to me as an effective way to decrease the national student loan debt.
While researching and analyzing higher education in politics and this election, I surprised myself at how interested I became not only in higher education but other political issues as well. I also surprised myself with my decision to support President Obama. I come from a very southern and conservative background so before beginning my independent research, I fully expected myself to agree with the policies of Governor Mitt Romney seeing as he was the most talked about by the friends and family in my life. However, upon researching each candidate’s platform for higher education, I found that I disagreed with Romney’s policies not only due to his lack of specifics but also his lack of support for federal government involvement in higher eduction. Romney’s policy involved providing better information about costs to students and parents so they could make informed decisions about which college to choose but also included limiting government funding to colleges in a time when they need it most. In researching Romney’s position, I learned how his idea of innovation and competition could be beneficial but I continued (and still continue) to agree with President Obama that government support is what is needed right now for higher education institutions and students.
One of the most significant ways in which I grew as a thinker over the course of posting to this blog was my recognition of unavoidable bias in political issues, like higher education. While analyzing higher education policies, finding information that was not biased towards President Obama, Governor Romney, or either of their affiliated parties was a difficult task. All of this biased information I found however was beneficial in showing me how the two sides of not only higher education,but other political issues as well, came to be. Drawing from the bias presented by the Internet and other media I have come to realize that politics are less about the actual policies and more about the leader presenting them and what groups of people will gain and lose depending on which leader wins. What I have learned is that there are people who will vote for a candidate not because of their platform but because of their skin color or religion because it is seen as a “win” for that group of people. Perhaps the most prevalent example of this in today’s society are the assumptions made that all African-Americans vote for President Obama simply because of his race and not his presidential abilities. As a young voter, I found myself guilty of this way of thinking before writing this blog. For example, before even knowing anything about the candidate, I planned to vote for any female running for office simply because I am a female as well and would like to see women advance in government offices. In researching higher education issues during this Presidential election season, I have learned to be a non-biased thinker and recognize bias when I see it. I have also learned the importance of voting for someone not because of what they look like or what religion they practice but because of what actions they plan to take and whether or not I agree with those actions.
Lastly, while I know it is a cliche’ these days, I have learned the importance of voting. As I became more aware of the issues surrounding higher education and what I wanted to see done to resolve those issues, I became more and more anxious to make my voice heard! Until I began researching and following the issues in this year’s election, I took the right to vote for granted. I could’ve cared less about who the President was or whether or not I even had the right to vote. Today though my entire way of thinking has changed as I have learned not only how our leader’s higher education policies will impact me as a college student but how his policies on things like health care and unemployment will impact myself and everyone else I know. To this end, I am now proud that I made my voice heard on election day and am determined to continue to cast my vote in the coming election years as an informed voter. While I am still more of a MixedupMind than a political guru, I am a work in progress in understanding political issues and higher education is only the first of many more to be researched.