Expanding Opportunity Through College for Everyone
"In America, every child should be able to go as far as his God-given talents and hard work will take him. As the first in my family to go to college, I know that our system of public education should be our sturdiest ladder of opportunity." - John Edwards
College has never been more important. College graduates can expect to earn $1 million more over their lifetimes than high school graduates, and their children are almost twice as likely to attend college themselves. However, an estimated 200,000 college-qualified graduates fail to attend college each year. Students from high-income families are five times more likely to enroll in college than their low-income peers. College-age black and Hispanic Americans are only about half as likely to be enrolled. Students who do go to college now leave with more than $19,000 in debt, twice as much as a decade ago. [College Summit, 2007; Dynarski, 1999; NACAC, 2005; Project on Student Debt, 2007]
Today, John Edwards released his plan to make college more affordable for millions of students. Speaking at Greene Central High School -- where he congratulated high school seniors participating in the "College for Everyone" pilot program -- he proposed a national College for Everyone program to pay for one year of public college for students willing to take a part-time job. He also proposed reforming student loans to eliminate bank subsidies, making applying for financial aid easier, and expanding access to college counselors.
Greene County's College for Everyone Program
In the fall of 2005, John Edwards helped start a College for Everyone pilot program at Greene Central High School in Snow Hill, North Carolina. The program was launched by the Center for Promise and Opportunity Foundation, a North Carolina nonprofit organization. Located in rural, eastern North Carolina, Greene County's income and education attainment are lower than North Carolina averages. Its school system has an above-average percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged.
The College for Everyone program is based on a proposal that Edwards first talked about in his 2004 presidential campaign. It helps pay for the first year of tuition, fees and books for college students who agree to work part-time. Students must also complete coursework that prepares them for further education, stay out of trouble, and enroll in a participating public university or community college. The program works with College Summit and North Carolina's universities and community colleges. Last year the program announced that more than $300,000 in scholarship funding was available, and 72 students just completed their first year of college. More than 125 students from this year's graduating class are expected to college in the fall with the help of College for Everyone. The projected college-going rate for Greene Central seniors has increased from 54 percent before the program started to 74 percent today.
John Edwards' College Opportunity Agenda
Today John Edwards proposed a series of initiatives to help all qualified students pay for college. His College Opportunity Agenda includes:
* Creating a National "College for Everyone" Initiative: Edwards will create a national initiative -- based on the Greene County program -- to pay one year of public-college tuition, fees, and books for more than 2 million students. In return, students will be required to work part-time in college, take a college-prep curriculum in high school, and stay out of trouble.
* Lower Costs: Research has shown that reducing the price of college can increase college enrollment rates, particularly in the first year of college. Unlike existing student aid programs, which give more money to schools with higher tuition, College for Everyone will encourage states and colleges to keep tuition low. State budget cuts are the number-one driver of higher tuition. [Dynarski, 1999; NCES, 2004]
* Clear Eligibility: Many high school students and parents assume they cannot afford college, overestimating tuition and overlooking student aid. College for Everyone's universal eligibility for qualifying students would break through the noise of the current student aid system and send a strong message that all qualified students can afford college. [ACE, 1998]
* Strong Preparation: Too many students don't go to college -- or fail once they get there -- because they were not adequately prepared in high school. The number one determinant of success in college is the rigor of high school courses. College for Everyone students will be required to complete a college-prep curriculum in high school. Edwards will also work with school districts to strengthen high school curricula. [Department of Education, 1999]
* Overhauling the Student Loan Program: Banks that make student loans receive large federal subsidies and a guarantee against default. However, millions of students have borrowed directly from the U.S. Department of Education, receiving loans that have very similar terms but are far less expensive for taxpayers. Edwards will let all students borrow directly from Education. By eliminating bank subsidies on student loans, he will free up almost $6 billion a year to make college more affordable. [CAP, 2006]
* Simplifying Financial Aid: The application for student aid, known as the FAFSA, is needlessly complicated and longer than many tax forms. Many students and families need classes to help fill it out, and 1.5 million high school students do not apply for aid even though they are eligible. Edwards would dramatically simplify the application process by using information the federal government already has, eliminating two-thirds of the questions. [TICAS, 2007]
* Giving Students the Tools They Need to Apply for College and Aid: Financial aid alone is not enough. Too many students lack the encouragement and guidance they need to apply to college. In some large cities, a single counselor must serve more than 700 students. Edwards will help every low-income high school eligible for Title I hire a new college counselor, helping students choose college-track courses and navigate the admissions and financial aid process. [McDonough, 2007; Bridge Project, 2003]