Presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) hit the campus campaign trail this week, visiting a handful of Northeast universities to promote his “Compact with the Next Generation,” a plan which would provide financial aid to college students in return for a commitment to community service.
“With college tuition rising higher this year than ever before, it’s time to make four years of college affordable and available to every single young American,” Kerry said during his kickoff speech at the University of New Hampshire on Monday. “We’ll help you pay for school, and we’ll help even more if you’re willing to serve your country.”
During his tour, Kerry hopes to garner student support for his plans to spur job growth and rein in rising college expenses. In addition to the service program, in which students would exchange two years of community service for college aid, Kerry intends to include initiatives for improved state aid and funds for college tax credits.
Yesterday, Kerry hosted a conference call with over 130 student newspapers, during which he outlined his plans for financial assistance and took questions from reporters. During the call, The Sun asked Kerry what additional student concerns he plans to address should he be elected to the presidency.
“Health care,” Kerry answered. “I have a health care plan for all Americans. I have a plan which will make health care more affordable and accessible.”
Kerry also identified economic growth and alternative energy development as issues which he believes will attract younger voters to his campaign.
“I’m … going to create jobs for when people get out of college. We’re going to grow 10 million new jobs over the course of the next four years and they’re going to be as [much] as possible the kind of high-tech, high-paying jobs that people need on graduation from college,” Kerry said. “We’re going to push the technology curve for alternative and renewable energy and start down the road of energy independence.”
Kerry also took aim at President Bush’s economic policies, citing his tax cuts as a burden to students struggling to pay for higher education.
“As everyone knows, the [Bush] administration has made its own funding choice to cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and cut assistance that goes to the states,” Kerry said. “… The George Bush tax cut for the wealthy is a tuition increase for students that I think is unconscionable.”
Kerry did, however, express his belief that funding levels may ultimately govern the scope of his proposed programs.
“We’ve taken [funding] into account on the proposal … I’m cutting back a little bit on the service program because of the affordability issue and we cut back a little bit on the state aid issue due to limits on budget reality. I will keep tuition tax credit for students, I will not cut back on that.”
When asked if he feared an imminent collapse of the Social Security program, Kerry expressed confidence that the system would be able overcome future strains on its resources.
“I will guarantee Social Security will be there through this century for your generation and the next. There are a lot of different scare tactics going on with Social Security,” Kerry said. “I do not intend to privatize Social Security the way George Bush wants to do it.”
Kerry also encouraged students to become active participants in the political process.
“Young people have this enormous power and they need to understand and embrace it and go out and use it,” Kerry said.
“John Kerry’s been talking to young people throughout this campaign. The campus tour is an effort to motivate them, get them involved in this race and highlight what is at stake in this election,” said Kerry spokesperson Eric Schultz.
Cornell’s Kerry supporters were enthusiastic about the senator’s efforts to address the concerns of student voters.
“I think it’s a wonderful plan, one that’s long overdue — Kerry has made education a priority in this campaign and George Bush has failed to do that,” said Matt Gewolb ’04. “I’m graduating in a couple of weeks and we’re going to be having to find jobs, [to find] a way to pay for health care and eventually put our own children through college.”
Kerry’s initiative, however, was met with skepticism from Bush supporters on campus.
“In general, the problem that I find with Kerry is that the Democrats are criticizing Bush’s plans and his agenda, but at least right now we can understand where Bush wants to push the country,” said Brandon Ashley ’05, vice president of elections for the Republicans of Cornell Coalition. “Going into the election four or five months from now, it’s a little scary that [Kerry] doesn’t have much of an agenda yet.”
Despite recent rumors to the contrary, Gewolb said that there are currently no definitive plans for a Kerry visit to Cornell.
“However, Students for Kerry has been in meaningful contact with the Kerry campaign and we’re working as hard as we possibly can to figure out how to have the senator here. We’re hopeful that it’ll happen sometime soon,” he said.
Kerry made an appearance yesterday morning at the University of Rhode Island and plans to visit the City College of New York City today. Rounding out the week, Kerry will make a stop at the University of Pittsburgh Friday.
Joining Kerry at various stops on the campus campaign trail are a handful of prominent politicians and entertainers, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Jon Bon Jovi, Franco Harris and Blink 182’s Tom DeLonge.
Archived article by Jeff Sickelco
Sun News Editor