Monday, June 23, 2008

Low-Income Students: $4000 Credit for Service

Photo: With Wayne State Students

Obama Urges Tax
Credit to Ease

Collegians' Pain

By Kathleen Gray and Lori Higgins

Detroit Free Press

June 18, 2008 - For the second straight day in Michigan, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama went to a college and met with students struggling to pay for their educations. At the Wayne County Community College campus in Taylor, he met with 29 students to hear their stories and tout his plan to make college more affordable.

Roy Gaines of Inkster wants to complete a degree in computer science. But old credit problems are hampering the 32-year-old father's ability to pay for the classes he needs.

Marilyn Pace, 23, of Taylor will graduate with an associate's degree in dental hygiene in five weeks. But the high price of gas, coupled with a maxed-out loan account, is leaving her $1,500 short of the cash she needs to take certification tests later this summer.

And Demetrius Jenkins, 19, of Inkster wants to transfer to Eastern Michigan University next year to pursue a premed degree. But the $16,000 annual cost of tuition, room and board is daunting. He didn't have the money to buy books in much of his first year at Wayne County Community College.

Obama said he hopes to offer a $4,000 annual tax credit for low-income students or their parents in return for community service. He would pay for the tax credits by raising taxes for people who make more than $250,000. "It just isn't right when you're working so hard and struggling so much just to pay your tuition,"

Obama told Pace, who is helping care for her disabled father. "I do not accept an America where you can't achieve your potential because you can't afford it." The campus visit capped a two-day trip to Michigan for Obama, who talked about many of the same issues Monday at Kettering University in Flint.

Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, favors consolidating training programs and partnering with community colleges to help displaced workers get college educations and perhaps new careers. On Tuesday, his campaign said Obama's proposals would result in a big tax increase that would hurt, not help, job growth in the nation. "Every college-savings account starts with a job, and Barack Obama has proposed tax hikes on over 21 million small businesses that drive job growth," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said.

"So while Sen. Obama shares John McCain's concern over the high price of college tuition, there is a critical job gap that must be addressed." Paying for education is a daily struggle for countless students across Michigan as tuition has increased while state subsidies to universities have fallen. Tuition rates increased last year at all of the state's 15 public universities, ranging from 5.74% at Western Michigan University to 15.14% at Wayne State University.

Meanwhile, state aid to the universities has declined by $150 million since 2002. Just last week, Michigan State University's Board of Trustees approved a 6.8% tuition increase for the school year that begins in September. Other universities are expected to consider increases later this month.

"We haven't seen declining enrollment yet, because students and parents understand that their personal earning power will be compromised without a degree," said Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan. "But I'm very, very worried about where we're headed. People keep taking out more and more loans."

At Oakland University, financial aid director Cindy Hermsen said any kind of funding for students to attend college is beneficial, but a tax credit may not be the most effective means of providing it.

"Students actually need funding to attend school up front," Hermsen said. "They don't need it a year from now when they file their tax returns." More useful, she said, would be more money for grant programs.

Michigan has a large number of students who qualify for need-based grants. For Pace, her choice has come down to paying her last tuition installment or the tests. After talking with Obama and WCCC financial aid director Marcus McGrew, Pace learned that the school would help her find a grant or scholarship that would allow her to finish up her year. That brought her to tears.

"You get tired sometimes, don't you," Obama said to Pace as he patted her back. "Well, we're proud of you, you're making good choices." Despite the words, Pace said she's still not sure for whom she'll vote on Nov. 4. "I kind of, sort of support him, but I can't just go on this experience," she said. "I agree with him on education, but I may not agree with him on other things. I still have to sit down and do my research."

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