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At Historic Voter Engagement Event, Edwards Tells 1000 High School Students To Strive For Greatness And Help Build A Better America

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Location: Columbia, SC


At Historic Voter Engagement Event, Edwards Tells 1000 High School Students To Strive For Greatness And Help Build A Better America

On day four of "Building a Better America week," Senator John Edwards returned to his birthplace of Seneca, South Carolina, joined by his parents, Bobbie and Wallace Edwards. At Walhalla High School, the same school Wallace Edwards graduated from in 1950, Edwards spoke to more than 1,000 high school seniors about how he was the first in his family to go to college and that he is running for president so that all young people have the same opportunities that he has had.

The student forum is being hosted by Generation Next Votes 2008. Nearly 1,000 students throughout the Oconee School District who will be 18 by November 4, 2008 will be attending, all of whom should leave the event informed, motivated and as registered voters. Representatives from both political parties in Oconee County, SC Voter Registration, and the League of Women Voters are also part of the program. Students from Clemson University will be assisting with the registration process.

"I believe that every child should be able to go as far as her God-given talents and hard work will take her," said Edwards. "I grew up in small, rural towns and my parents didn't have a lot of money. But I was lucky to have people who taught me to believe that somebody from Seneca could do just about anything if he worked hard and played by the rules.

"In the America I believe in, every child deserves to have the same chances I had. I was the first in my family to go to college and I think that every young person who is willing to work hard has the opportunity to go to college and fulfill the American Dream."

At the forum, Edwards outlined his plan to make college more affordable for millions of students through a national College for Everyone program that will pay for public college for students willing to take a part-time job. The College for Everyone program is based on a proposal that Edwards first talked about in his 2004 presidential campaign. In the fall of 2005, Edwards helped start a College for Everyone pilot program at Greene Central High School in Snow Hill, North Carolina, a economically disadvantaged, rural community in eastern North Carolina. The projected college-going rate for Greene Central seniors has increased from 54 percent before the program started to 74 percent today.

Before the forum, Edwards presided over the official opening of the new Oconee County Democratic Party Headquarters in Seneca. Later in the day, Edwards will stop by The Haven restaurant in Charleston before headlining the Charleston County Democratic Women Holiday Party accompanied by actor Harry Belafonte.

To date, Edwards leads all Democratic candidates in campaign stops and money raised in South Carolina. Earlier this month, Edwards became the first Democratic candidate to launch television ads in the state. The campaign has aired three South Carolina ads so far. During "Building a Better America" week, Edwards is highlighting five core proposals to build a better America including universal health care, good jobs, excellent schools, affordable housing, and strong families. Edwards has challenged the American people to rise up and meet the great moral test of our time to ensure our generation leaves this country better for our children than it was when our parents gave it to us.

For more information on Edwards' plan for making college affordable, please see the policy document included below.
College Affordability 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. Students who do go to college now leave with about $20,000 in debt. Last year, student debt rose by 8 percent while college graduates' starting wages grew by only 4 percent. [Census, 2002; Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, 2002; NELS, 1998; Project on Student Debt, 2007]

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 the Department of Education. By eliminating bank subsidies on student loans, he will free up billions of dollars to make college more affordable.

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]


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