August 27, 2012

The 2012 Election: What Academe Needs to Know

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The 2012 general election will determine more than which candidates win federal and state offices.

It will also determine who guides federal oversight of student aid, for-profit colleges, research, and more, with billions of taxpayer dollars in the balance. It will decide who presides over state support for colleges as most such public institutions struggle under repeated budget cuts. As the final weeks of the campaign unfold, this page will host highlights of The Chronicle's coverage of the general election as it relates to higher education.

Decision 2012

The Chronicle blogs the election

Michael Stratford, who covers politics and federal policy for The Chronicle, reports on what the campaigns are saying—and what's at stake for students and scholars. Follow his dispatches.

Obama vs. Romney on Higher-Education Issues

Barack Obama

President, Democrat

Mitt Romney

Presidential nominee, Republican

Student Aid

Obama: Secured bipartisan support in Congress this summer for a one-year extension of the current interest rate on some federal student loans. Signed a law that caps some borrowers’ payments at 10 percent of their disposable income, starting this year for current students, and forgives any remaining debt after 20 years. Halted bank-based lending so that the federal government makes loans directly to students; plans to continue to use savings to step up support for Pell Grants and community colleges.

Romney: Vows to restore the role of banks in the federal student-loan market and to streamline the federal student-aid system. Promises to “refocus Pell dollars on the students who need them most and place the program on a responsible long-term path that avoids future funding cliffs and last-minute funding patches,” according to a report on education.

For-Profit Colleges

Obama: Tightened regulations. During his presidency, the Education Department adopted the “gainful-employment rule,” which aims to ensure that programs receiving federal student aid are preparing students to succeed in the work force. Put in place rules to thwart misrepresentation in recruiting and to increase state regulation of distance education.

Romney: Platform calls for private-sector participation and “new models” in higher education. One of his top education advisors has said that a Romney administration would work to eliminate the gainful employment rule as well as regulations that define “credit hour” and require states to authorize distance-education programs.


Obama: Advocates passage of the Dream Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for young people who were brought to the United States illegally as children. Announced a new policy this year that allows young people who are illegal immigrants to apply for work permits and for renewable two-year deferments on any action that could lead to their deportation.

Romney: Would veto the Dream Act. Says there should be a pathway to citizenship for young people who were brought here illegally as children if they serve in the military. Party platform calls for cutting off federal funds to colleges that allow illegal-immigrant students to pay lower in-state tuition rates.


Obama: Requested $7.4-billion in federal support for the National Science Foundation in his 2013 budget, an increase of $340-million from the 2012 level. Requested federal support for the National Institutes of Health remained flat for 2013 at $31-billion. Supports stem-cell research; in 2009, repealed President George W. Bush’s ban on federal money for stem-cell research.

Romney: Emphasizes his “strong commitment to research in the physical, biological, and social sciences” and pledges that “the priorities for research funding" will not be "hijacked by short-term political imperatives.” As governor of Massachusetts, vetoed a bill that would have allowed the cloning of human embryos for stem-cell research. Says stem-cell research must be “pursued with respect and care.”

Timeline: Campaign Coverage From the Chronicle