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New Obama Ad Hits Romney-Ryan on Higher Ed. Policy

By Alyson Klein — August 14, 2012 2 min read

Just days after presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney put Rep. Paul Ryan on the GOP ticket, the Obama campaign released a campaign ad highlighting the cuts to higher education spending that are included in the Ryan budget plan, which has already been passed by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

College students—and their parents—are an important voting bloc. Young people turned out in droves for Obama back in 2008. And, with the cost of higher education sky-rocketing, student loans have been a campaign issue, with both Obama and Romney calling on Congress to keep interest rates stable at 3.4 percent. Much more here.

Ryan’s proposal would make big changes to the Pell Grant program—which would ultimately result in fewer students meeting the grant-eligibility requirements. It would also eliminate interest-free benefits on subsidized Stafford loans. Much more wonktastic analysis from the New America Foundation’s education budget project here.

The ad, which you can watch below, touts Obama’s own record on higher education, saying that he was able to “cut out the middle man” when it comes to administering student loans and use “the savings to double college grants.”

Politics K-12 fact check: This statement is true, but also could be considered a little bit misleading, depending on how voters interpret it.

Some background: Obama used the savings achieved by getting rid of the Federal Family Education Loan Program to put the Pell Grant program on firmer fiscal footing. The Pell Grant program had been underfunded, in part because Congress increased the size of the maximum grant three different times when Democrats took over Congress in 2007, to make up for the fact that it had failed to keep up with rising college costs, and in part because there’s been much higher demand for the grants during the economic slowdown.

Getting rid of FFELP allowed the administration to increase the total size of the Pell Grant program itself, but it didn’t actually “double” the size of individual Pell Grants for students. Of course, the distinction is a tough one to make in a 30-second spot. The campaign cites this Washington Post article to back up its claims.

For his part, Ryan has made it clear that he thinks large amounts of federal financial aid just give colleges an incentive to jack up tuition. Read more in his budget blueprint. Romney hasn’t specifically endorsed every individual piece of the Ryan budget, but he has called the whole proposal “marvelous"—and he put Ryan on the ticket. Romney has also said he’d like to beef up the role of the private sector in overseeing student loans, but he hasn’t been specific about exactly how he would do this.

The ad will run in five swing states: Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia.