As in 2008, a vast majority of college students who voted pulled the lever for President Barack Obama. It is believed, based on polling surveys, that the President received nearly 60 percent of the votes from people aged 18 to 29 who went to the polls on Tuesday. The number of younger people who turned out to vote this year also increased marginally, with an additional one percent making the effort to cast a vote over the turnout in 2008.
The question now is whether President Obama will show the same type of support for college students (and their parents when it comes to paying for college) as the students demonstrated during the election. Looking back at Obama’s first term, if it’s any indicator, the evidence is favorable for students and their families. Over the last four years, the president has managed – in spite of an occasionally hostile congress – to prevent major increases in the interest rates for student loans and has helped to increase the funding for the Pell Grant program, which assists college students who have a lower income or come from low income families.
In addition to backing these initiatives, President Obama has led the call for greater transparency in the way colleges charge students and calculate the costs of attending school. During Obama’s first term, as well, the U.S. Department of Education proposed and finalized a regulation that makes student loan repayment terms scaled to a graduate’s income level.
All in all, Obama has been a very pro-college, pro-student president. In order to cement a student friendly legacy, however, the President will have to roll up his sleeves and get to work on pushing through some of the promises he made to young voters during the 2012 election campaign. Some of his proposals and promises may be a little more difficult for him to effect in a non-election year with a Congress that doesn’t always have the President’s back.
When it comes to higher education and education financing, President Obama is definitely ambitious. He has proposed a plan that will cap the amount by which tuition and fees are allowed to increase on annual basis. Within 10 years, the President hopes, the cost of attending college will be permitted to increase by only half as much as they can today. He has also announced, evoking the spirit of John F. Kennedy, that he wants the United States to have the highest percentage, among its population, of university graduates in the world by the year 2020. As creative and thought-provoking as such policies are, the President has not yet unveiled his plans for making such plans happen.
One particularly sticky issue the President will face during his second term is the softness of the job market for college graduates. Although college graduates are still less likely to be unemployed than individuals who only have a high school education, President Obama has taken a lot of criticism, particularly by Republicans in the months before the election, for not doing enough to boost the economy and create jobs. On the other hand, statistics have shown that over the last two and a half years, the number of jobs in the U.S. have been growing steadily, although have not yet come close to replacing those lost in the global financial crisis.
According to President Obama, he plans to offer his support to initiatives focused on job training through community colleges as well as private business. The President has said he believes that such training initiatives could result in the addition of another two million jobs during his second term, which is good news for graduates – if it comes to fruition.
Ultimately, President Obama’s toughest hurdle will be the same one he faced during the second part of his first term: a Congress led by Republicans. The President has lifted the expectations of college students and their families, now he must buck his critics who say he has failed to cross party lines and make effective policy changes. Hopefully, now that he’s secured a second and final term, President Obama and Congress will be more willing to cooperate with one another and get done for students what needs to be accomplished.
In the end, past results are not an indicator of future returns. That’s a truism in electing a president as much as it is in saving for college. However, President Obama has proven that he has students’ interests at heart during his first four years, and disclosed a number of ambitious plans during the run-up to Election Day. Now students and their families will have to sit back and wait to see if their risk in voting for President Obama over the apparently more business-wise Mitt Romney will pay off during the next four years.