Dean offers $6 billion plan to help college students

Democrat would promise some aid, limit repayment

November 14, 2003|By Matea Gold | Matea Gold,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HANOVER, N.H. - Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean laid out a $6 billion plan yesterday to help more students afford college, promising to increase federal financial aid and limit the debt that graduates would have to repay.

Focusing on an issue that also has spurred proposals from several of his rivals in the Democratic race, the former Vermont governor said too many students are discouraged from pursuing college because they don't believe they can pay for it.

"The sad truth is that there are a lot of your peers that will never make it," he told an overflow crowd in an auditorium at Dartmouth College here.

"Kids in middle schools and high schools are losing hope. They stop working toward graduation because they assume that they'll never go to college."

Under his plan, eighth-graders who pledge to prepare and apply for college would be guaranteed $10,000 in financial aid through a mixture of grants and loans, determined by their financial status.

The money also could be applied to vocational schools.

Families who qualify also would receive assistance in developing a savings plan for college expenses.

Those who graduate from college would not have to spend more than 10 percent of their annual income repaying student loans. Any sum they spend over that amount through repayment plans would be returned to them through a tax credit.

For those who take public service jobs, such as teachers, nurses or firefighters, the annual repayment would be limited to 7 percent.

The proposal is one of many that Dean would pay for by repealing the tax cuts passed under President Bush.

Dean's record on the college-aid topic was quickly challenged by Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, another of the Democratic candidates.

Gephardt's campaign charged that as a fiscally moderate governor, Dean proposed cuts to Vermont's college-aid program in the mid-1990s.

A Dean spokesman, Jay Carson, said that small trims were made to the state's aid program during two tight budget years. But he said that during Dean's 10-year gubernatorial tenure, funding for higher education and financial aid increased 27 percent in Vermont.

Gephardt previously has harshly criticized Dean for backing Republican efforts during those years to scale back federal spending on Medicare.

With such attacks, Gephardt and other Democratic contenders increasingly are trying to depict Dean as a politician trying to change his stripes as he seeks the presidency.

In his Dartmouth speech, Dean also pledged to spend $4.7 billion over four years to quadruple the number of AmeriCorps positions to 250,000.

The national service organization, which was recently cut by Bush, would have 50,000 new positions dedicated to public safety, he said.

Many of Dean's opponents have offered similar plans to make attending college more attainable.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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