Many of the major topics raised in this election year will have a tremendous impact on Americans’ everyday lives. With immigration policy, Supreme Court nominations and gun control the most prominent issues, there is another that could affect students and first-time voters the most: the cost of college.
“It’s definitely one of the biggest things that will impact who I vote for,” said Mackenzie Banks, a political science and James Madison senior at Michigan State. “I’ll be starting law school next year, and any help with decreased tuition costs would be great.”
Banks said he was a supporter of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders before he dropped out of the presidential race. Sanders was an advocate for free tuition at public universities and was a popular candidate among young voters.
Tuition costs have been a major issue since 1980, and the current cost of tuition is going up faster than the rate of inflation. The fact that state support has decreased over time for public universities has led to taxpayers taking on increasingly small portions of college costs, resulting in students paying more of their own way. This contributes to more student debt and some potential students not being able to attend due to financial limitations.
For public four-year institutions in the U.S., tuition prices have increased by 161 percent since 1990. There are 18 four-year, public universities in Michigan, and their average price of tuition is $10,433 per year. Out-of-state students pay an average of $21,380. That is without factoring in other costs such as for books and supplies or housing costs.
Of the 18 public universities in Michigan, only one (Lake Michigan College) has the same tuition for in- and out-of-state students. The University of Michigan and Michigan State University have the two highest out of state tuitions, but Michigan Tech has the highest in-state tuition costs.
College students should vote for Democrats if their main issue is the cost of college, said Mark Grebner, a political consultant and candidate for Ingham County Commissioner.
“The Republicans are the people who have reduced spending on universities in the state of Michigan, have cut the budget over and over again and have shifted more and more money away from education,” Grebner said.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said he plans to enhance education options for students through school choice and charters, respecting homeschoolers in their quest for educational alternatives and making it easier for families to afford college so students aren’t buried in debt.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has said she will work to ensure every child has access to a world-class education, including access to high-quality preschool. She has stressed the need to strike the right balance on testing—with fewer, fairer and better tests for elementary and secondary school students. In addition, she says that the country must support teachers with the training and resources they need.
Clinton also has said that she will make sure education is available and affordable to everyone. She emphasizes the need to make college affordable so that students don’t have to borrow and pay off as much student debt.
However, Grebner also stressed the point that voting Democratic might not make an immediate difference in whether or not college costs will drop dramatically in the next four years.
“For students, the main thing should be that having Democrats control something in state government,” Grebner said. “It would result in not lower tuition, but tuition would not rise as fast as it would otherwise.”
Grebner mentioned how the state Senate, which is over two-thirds Republican, and the governor position are not on the ballot and those positions are involved with higher education policy on a day-to-day basis.
Regardless, East Lansing City Clerk Marie Wicks said students who are dealing with the problems of college costs should make a concerted effort to go out to the polls and vote to get members who align with their ideals into state house positions, as well as federal government seats like the U.S. House of Representatives and the President.
“Our (city clerk’s office) efforts helped register hundreds of students who plan to vote in the upcoming election,” Wicks said. “The biggest thing now is to make sure those students are showing up to polls on November 8th and voting for the candidates at all levels of government.”