TAYLOR, Mich. - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama met with students at a community college yesterday to highlight his plans for a $4,000 annual tuition tax credit, the second day he has contrasted his plans on bread-and-butter issues with his Republican rival, John McCain.
Mr. Obama said education "isn't an issue you hear Senator McCain talking much about. He's out of touch. He's voted time and again to stop us [from] making college affordable."
The McCain campaign said Mr. McCain has a record of supporting national service and educational opportunities, and that Mr. Obama s tuition plan depends on raising taxes on 21 million small businesses, which provide jobs.
"Every college-savings account starts with a job," said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds. "So while Senator Obama shares John McCain s concern over the high price of college tuition, there is a critical job-gap that Obama fails to address."
On Monday, Mr. Obama met with a family in Flint, Mich., with a $40,000 income and contrasted his proposals for a tax cut with those of Mr. McCain.
Tuesday's event was held at the Downriver campus of the Wayne County Community College District, where about 30 students who receive financial aid traded comments and questions with Mr. Obama about the burdens of paying for their educations.
Mr. Obama has proposed a $4,000 refundable tax credit per student, per year, for tuition, meaning it would be paid even if the individual paid no taxes. It would cover two-thirds of tuition at the average public college or university, and all of the tuition and some expenses at many community colleges, Mr. Obama said. The student would have to commit to 100 hours of public service to receive the help.
Student Demetrius Jenkins, 18, said he will owe about $6,000 in tuition to transfer to a four-year college, after receiving grants and federally guaranteed loans to cover about $10,000.
"One of the things I'm having trouble with is private loans," he said. Mr. Obama and the college's financial aid officer, Marcus McGrew, advised him to avoid private loans if possible.
"I'd make sure we have this additional $4,000 tuition credit so you don't have to resort to the private market," Mr. Obama said. He bemoaned "unscrupulous" lenders and said he wants more regulation of the private market.
"I feel that if he is elected, the issues he is concerned about will come about," Mr. Jenkins said afterward.
A 43-year-old part-time student at Wayne State who said her daughter, a full-time student at Eastern Michigan University, is in danger of losing her academic eligibility for her financial aid asked Mr. Obama for advice.
He suggested she spend less time watching TV, text-messaging friends, and going to movies and more time studying.
"If your daughter has an opportunity to attend a four-year school and get a degree, there are no excuses. She's got to keep her grades up and graduate," Mr. Obama said.
The mother, Stephanie Baker, said she plans to play back a recording of the event for her 20-year-old daughter, Autumn.
"She is such a staunch Obama supporter, it'll be like God talking to her," Ms. Baker said.
Dental hygiene student Marilyn Pace teared up in a one-on-one meeting with Mr. Obama.
Ms. Pace said she is about $1,500 short of paying for tuition and supplies for her dental hygiene studies, on top of struggles paying living expenses and helping her father with medical expenses from a kidney transplant.
In her case, Mr. Obama and a college loan counselor said a private loan should be able to close the gap.
"Money is a really big issue for me, just paying for it all," said Ms. Pace, 23, who said she has $13,000 in debt. She said she will graduate with an associate's degree and will be able to apply for jobs once she passes her board and clinical exams. She said jobs in her chosen profession pay $25 to $30 per hour.
Mr. Obama said he plans to pay for his campaign promises, including universal health care, by raising taxes on incomes above $250,000. He also said he would have the government make college loans directly, saving billions of dollars now going to private banks.
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