Charlotte, N.C. — In a platform released late Monday, the Democratic Party laid out a goal of expanding access to higher education and attacked Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, on the issues of college affordability and for-profit colleges.
The document, which will be formally approved by delegates at the Democratic National Convention here on Tuesday, outlines the party’s vision for a more robust system of higher education, which it describes as the “surest path to the middle class” and vital to national competitiveness.
Democrats want the United States to have the world’s highest proportion of college graduates by 2020, the platform says, though it offers few specific policy proposals on how to accomplish such a goal. President Obama, who is due to accept his party’s nomination at the convention this week, announced that objective in 2009.
The platform also takes aim at the higher-education record of Mitt Romney, a businessman and former governor of Massachusetts.
Echoing a recent Obama campaign television advertisement, the platform chastises Mr. Romney for his remark that students ought to “shop around” for “best education they can afford.”
The Obama campaign has increasingly been trying to draw a contrast between the president and Mr. Romney on the issue of college affordability. The platform highlights what Democrats see as Mr. Obama’s successes in that area over the past four years: ending the federal bank-based student-loan program, increasing funds for Pell Grants, and establishing more-lenient policies for repaying federal student loans.
Mr. Romney’s campaign has countered that the cost of college has continued to skyrocket since Mr. Obama took office. Debt-saddled recent graduates are struggling to find work, the Romney campaign says, as a result of the president’s failed economic policies, which have not created enough jobs.
The Democratic platform singles out for-profit colleges for criticism, describing them as institutions “that often leave students buried in debt and without the skills for quality jobs and that prey on our service-members and veterans.”
The document also touts an executive order by President Obama that it says is “making it harder for for-profit colleges to prey on veterans.”
By contrast, the Republican platform, approved last week in Tampa, Fla., lends support to for-profit colleges, describing the sector as one of several alternatives to traditional higher education that should be expanded.
The inclusion of for-profit colleges in both parties’ platform is an indication that the debate over where those institutions fit into a changing higher-education landscape is hardening along partisan lines.
Republicans generally support proprietary colleges as competitors to traditional higher-education institutions and have opposed efforts to regulate them. Mr. Romney himself has also voiced support for such colleges, making several campaign stops in the past year at them.
Democrats, by contrast, have sought to tighten rules for for-profit colleges, and some in the party have been vocal critics of the institutions, which they say squander federal student aid by poorly preparing students for well-paying jobs but leaving them with big debts. The Democratic platform criticizes Mr. Romney for his “staunch” support for for-profit colleges.
Still, perhaps reflecting some division on the issue among Democrats, the platform only vaguely references one of the Obama administration’s main policies on for-profit colleges. Without referring to the “gainful employment” regulations by name, the document says that Democrats are committed to “making sure that taxpayer dollars support high-quality education programs.”
The Democratic platform also:
- Pledges to continue public support for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. “Democrats are proud of our support for arts funding and education,” the platform says. “Investment in the arts strengthens our communities and contributes to our nation’s rich cultural heritage.”
- Says Democrats would “recommit to enforcing Title IX,” a 1972 amendment to the Higher Education Act that prohibits discrimination based on gender at colleges that receive federal funds.
- Affirms support for the Obama administration’s new immigration policy, which allows law-abiding students who were brought to the United States illegally as children to receive two-year deferments on deportation and to apply for work permits.