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United States: Rising college costs and the presidential elections

During the last four years, the Obama Administration has made considerable efforts to make college more affordable. Obama markedly increased aid to students from low- and middle-income backgrounds, especially through the Pell Grant Program. While this scheme supported six million students in 2008, with a total of USD 14.6 billion (EUR 11.32 billion), it funds nearly 10 million this year, with a total amount of close to USD 40 billion (EUR 31 billion). The Obama Administration has also increased aid to Community Colleges.

In campaign speeches at universities and colleges across the country, Obama has recently promoted his achievements in making tertiary study less costly. In the second of the three TV debates with Mitt Romney, he stressed: “We have expanded Pell Grants for millions of people, including millions of young women.” Most of the higher education community has been appreciative of these efforts. Molly Corbett Broad, the President of the American Council on Education, said that in “assisting students to gain a college experience, President Obama has exerted the most impressive leadership of any president in memory”.  Conservative critics, on the other hand, criticize that the aid expansion is unsustainable – and ironically puts colleges in a position to more easily increase tuition fees. In line with this, Romney had until recently demanded to “refocus Pell Grants to students that need them most”. In the second TV debate, however, he stated he had no intention of cutting education funding and grants to college students.

College cost in the United States has risen very significantly in the last decade. In the past year, tuition, fees, room and board averaged almost USD 39 000 (EUR 30 239) at private colleges, nearly USD 15 000 (EUR 11 630) up from ten years earlier, according to College Board data. The cost at public four-year colleges amounted to about USD 17 000 (EUR 13 181), up more than USD 8 000 (EUR 6 202).

The New York Times