Bush education promises could prove tough to live up to

Despite campaign promises of increased student financial aid and improved student access to college, experts say it is unlikely that President George W. Bush will implement any drastic changes in higher-education policy in the short term.

Over the course of the campaign, Bush pushed his “Agenda for America,” in which he briefly described enhancing Pell Grants and AmeriCorps Education Awards, as well as creating incentives for states to make it easier for students to transfer credits earned at community colleges to four-year institutions.

With a Republican majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, political science professor Henry Teune said that the president will be in a better position to implement his initiatives, but will likely be focusing on what he views as more pressing issues.

David Copley, chairman of the Pennsylvania State Federation of College Republicans, said it is too early to predict if or when Bush would begin to move on educational issues.

“The priorities right now are elections in Iraq (and) reforming the (Social Security) system,” the Wharton senior said.

But as University tuition rates continue to rise faster than inflation, Teune said that a “fine tune” of student grants is more probable.

Tuition inflation could be offset, to some extent, by a stronger economy. Teune predicted that an economic turnaround is imminent.

“The Saudis will pump some more oil, the Libyans will be pumping more, oil prices will go down and the stock market will go up,” Teune said. “A lot of good things will happen to the economy. Everyone will get a lot more money, and people are usually pretty happy with that.”

Science and research funding, which make up a large portion of university budgets, also play into Bush’s plan for higher education.

“A big question is whether Bush will give more to national science foundations,” Teune said. With the Republican majority in Congress, Bush has an opportunity to change the way research funds are distributed.

However, Teune said that funding to centers such as the National Institutes of Health would not differ much due to the federal budget deficit.

Bush’s foreign policy, however, may also affect another constituency within higher education — foreign students.

“They’ll have to visit the visa fears of foreign students. There was some drop in applications,” Teune said.

This sentiment is echoed by Senior Vice President of the American Council on Education Michael Baer.

“I think clearly in the last four years there has been a greater restriction on ease of entry from students into the United States from other countries,” Baer said. “I think it’s detrimental for several reasons. Many of the science disciplines have attracted international students in the past. It decreases the amount of research that can be done by institutions and faculty.”

Fewer international students entering the country may also negatively impact world sentiment toward the United States.

“Fewer students are coming to this country, learning about the United States, U.S. culture, (and) developing a warm feeling about the United States,” Baer said.