Mitt Romney contends that “a flood of federal dollars” is driving up the cost of higher education. He pledges, in an education white paper, that he would not “write a blank check to universities to reward their tuition increases.”
Romney says federal Pell grants should be refocused on students who most need them. That implies a restructuring of a need-based program that is a cornerstone of financial aid for colleges nationwide. However, advisers say the candidate would not seek to reduce the maximum Pell grant award of $5,550 a year.
The Republican would reevaluate President Obama’s 2010 student loan overhaul that expanded direct government lending and cut private lenders out of the federal loan market. Romney contends that the private sector is better equipped than the government to help ensure that students are clearly informed about their obligations when they apply for loans.
In regulation, Romney would scrap the Obama administration’s “gainful employment “ rules that targeted for-profit colleges.
In general, he would seek to ease regulation of higher education in an effort to promote innovation in areas such as online learning.
Some of Romney’s positions reflect bipartisan consensus on higher education. Like Obama, he supported congressional action last summer to extend a 3.4 percent rate on federal student loans. He also strongly supports federal funding of research at universities.
WHAT THE CANDIDATES HAVE DONE ON EDUCATION
President Obama has sparked a major overhaul of K-12 education nationwide. He did it through two avenues: by giving waivers to states clamoring to be exempted from No Child Left Behind, a 2002 federal education law that imposed severe penalties on schools that don’t meet its requirements, and by using $5 billion in stimulus money to create Race to the Top, a series of national contests among the states.
To receive a waiver for No Child Left Behind or to compete for a Race to the Top grant, states had to adopt Obama’s favored educational policies. As a result, dozens of states are using new teacher evaluations based in part on student test scores, expanding public charter schools and adopting common academic standards so that a third-grader in Mississippi learns the same skills as a third-grader in Massachusetts. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia are implementing these new standards. And 33 states have changed 100 laws or policies to compete in Race to the Top, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.
While Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, fourth- and eighth-graders became the first in the country on national exams that measure math and reading skills. The state was already on a pathway to that point before his election and remains top-ranked, thanks largely to a 1993 state education overhaul that poured $2 billion into schools, created new curriculum standards, gave principals more autonomy and provided more professional training for teachers.
Romney persuaded the Massachusetts school board to add science to the subjects that are tested. And he defended the state requirement that high school seniors pass an exit exam to graduate, a rule some mayors challenged.
As governor, Romney created a scholarship program for top-performing high school students that covers tuition at state colleges. Still, the John and Abigail Adams Scholarships do not pay for fees, which can amount to more than 80 percent of college costs at some campuses.
As a Republican governor in a state with a legislature controlled by Democrats, Romney had trouble pushing through other education reforms. He tried to offer merit pay for teachers and wanted to link their performance to student test scores, two proposals that fell flat. Romney also wanted to ban bilingual education, another idea that never gained traction. And he wanted to require parents in the lowest-performing districts to attend parenting classes to enroll their children in full-day kindergarten, a proposal that never became law.