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Kerry Hits Campuses to Tout Plan For More National Service

Election 2004Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts hit the college circuit last week, with a series of visits aimed at reaching young voters and talking up, among other initiatives, his idea for promoting a big expansion in national service in exchange for college-tuition aid.

The presumptive Democratic nominee for president offered new details on the plan—originally unveiled a year ago—including a funding mechanism that amounts to its own campaign proposal: The estimated $13 billion price tag over 10 years would come from savings generated by retooling the federal student-loan system.

Sen. Kerry’s proposal would aim to engage more than 500,000 young Americans in service, such as tutoring students or mentoring at-risk teenagers, within the next decade. He envisions that at least 200,000 people would serve full time for two years in exchange for four years of tuition aid equivalent to the costs at a typical public university. Another 300,000 college students who served part time would get some college aid.

"At the heart of my [proposal] is this simple promise: If you’re willing to do right by America, then America is willing to do right by you," he said April 14 at the City College of New York.

A campaign fact sheet says the plan would be "fully paid for by [Mr. Kerry’s] new initiative to eliminate the bloated, guaranteed profits for banks making student loans."

He wants to move away from the current approach under the Federal Family Education Loan program, in which lenders are assured a specified financial yield as determined by Congress, to a competitive system that would require banks to bid in an open auction for the business of student loans. The campaign estimates savings to the U.S. Treasury of at least $14 billion over 10 years under its plans.

The proposal quickly came under fire from the Consumer Bankers Association, which represents many major lenders.

"A student-loan auction, in which the rights to offer guaranteed loans goes to the lowest bidder, creates great uncertainty for lenders," Joe Belew, the group’s president, said in a statement. "It is doubtful that banks would be willing to continue to invest the tremendous resources in technology and personnel that have made this program a success if their ongoing participation is subject to a periodic auction."

Becky Timmons, the government-relations director for the Washington-based American Council on Education, which represents 1,800 colleges and universities, said of Mr. Kerry’s plan: "It’s one of those things where the details will make a whole lot of difference."

She said the idea of an auction had some merit, but "the practical implementation may be difficult to achieve."

Issues and Answers

From gay rights to the environment, young people trying to figure out where they stand on public-policy matters have a new tool to help: "voter guides" that focus on issues rather than candidates.

"[These] guides are the antidote to voter education materials that are deadly dull, one-sided, full of ‘expert’ opinion—or all three," said Ruth A. Wooden, the president of Public Agenda, a nonpartisan opinion-research organization based in New York City, which produced the materials.

The guides, called "First Choice 2004: Know What You Want Before You Decide Who You Want," include interactive checklists and quizzes aimed at helping teachers get students engaged in political issues.

The guides are available online at and on the New York Times Learning Network at The Times education Web site contains an "Election 2004" section that also features links to campaign news and related materials.

—Erik W. Robelen

Vol. 23, Issue 32, Page 26

Published in Print: April 21, 2004, as Campaign Notebook
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