Dean proposes education plan

by Matthew Kelly | 11/14/03 6:00am

Although Democratic candidate for President Howard Dean unveiled a $7.1 billion higher education plan yesterday, he could not escape controversy surrounding comments he made regarding the Confederate flag.

Dean announced this new proposal yesterday morning in Alumni Hall that he said would provide financial incentives to make college more affordable through offering $10,000 in annual federal financial aid and tax credits on college loan repayments and by expanding AmeriCorps.

"When he signed the Higher Education Act of 1965, Lyndon Johnson said, 'A high school senior anywhere in this great land of ours can apply to any college or university in any of the 50 states and not be turned away because their family is poor.' But that vision is far from complete," Dean said.

Dean criticized President Bush's tax cuts, arguing that federal funding for higher education is more important.

"In 1998 George Bush, when he was Governor of Texas, told a Texas newspaper, 'Higher education is not my priority,' well it is mine." Dean added.

Dean's plan, entitled "Dean College Commitment," would guarantee $10,000 in annual federal financial aid for either college or high-skills career training, delivered in a mix of loans and grants depending on the financial state of the family. This annual $10,000 will only be given to those students who pledge in eighth grade to prepare for college and graduate high school.

"When a student enters high school, they need to know the door to college is open to them," Dean said.

Dean's plan also addressed rising student debt. According to him, average student debt has doubled to over $17,000 in 10 years, and about one-fifth of all college students now work full-time to cover expenses.

The plan would give a refundable tax credit to all borrowers for any amount that exceeds 10 percent of their income. While borrowers must be working to qualify for the credit, under the proposal they would still receive the benefit even if they owe no income taxes. Those currently enrolled in student aid plans would be eligible for tax credit as well, if their payments exceed 10 percent of their incomes.

If college graduates decide to enter public service -- nursing, teaching, social work or public safety -- they would receive a tax credit for any loan repayment in excess of 7 percent of their income.

To ensure that college debt does not follow borrowers until middle age, Dean's plan will expire after 10 years. Depending on what percentage of each family's package is in loans, and the student's income, each student's annual payment will differ greatly.

Dean would also quadruple the number of AmeriCorps positions to 250,000. AmeriCorps was founded in 1993, and currently provides $4,725 per year of community service in an education gift that can be used to pay for college or repay student loans. Dean would like to dedicate 50,000 of the 250,000 positions to what he calls "Frontline" positions, such as firefighters, emergency medical technicians and park rangers.

According to Dean, the cost of these plans will be $7.1 billion annually. The student loan program will cost $6 billion each year, while the expansion of AmeriCorps will cost $4.7 billion over four years. Dean would pay for his proposal by repealing the entire slate of Bush tax cuts, including those for the middle class.

For many, however, Dean's education proposals may be less memorable than the actions of around nine Dartmouth students. As Dean walked into Alumni Hall, each unfurled a Confederate flag. Some greeted Dean at the door, others peppered the audience and others followed Dean as he walked into the Top of the Hop to greet overflow. Dean ignored the flag wavers as he greeted supporters from Dartmouth and other nearby colleges onstage.

When asked for comment, Dean said he was not affected by the presence of Confederate flags.

"I don't have a reaction. People on college campuses do these things, and they are entitled to do it under free speech," he said after a pause.

Although Dean himself believes that students have the right to protest, Safety and Security officer Mike Wilds confiscated several flags from participants who followed Dean into the Top of the Hop. Sergeant Mark Lancaster of Safety and Security could not be reached for comment on why this action was taken.

It is unclear if any organization is responsible for the demonstration.

"The event was performed by an independent entity," according to Jonathan Beilin '07, a participant who identified himself as an Independent. Beilin, however, would not comment on the originator of the idea to bring Confederate flags to yesterday's Dean speech, or if the participants were part of a larger organization.

"There was a heavily satirical element involved. We did this to highlight Dean's position switching and the fact that he stereotyped poor Southerners as Confederate flag-wavers," Beilin said.

"Just eight or nine of us got together and decided to do this," fellow demonstrator Xi Huang '06 said. "I did this because his comments were elitist, condescending, stereotypical and arrogant."

Young Democrats President Paul Heintz '06, a Dean supporter who spoke at the event, dismissed the flag-wavers and urged students to concentrate on issues such as the higher education proposal.

"Things like that, sure they are amusing, but they are not productive and they have no bearing on the outcome of the election," Heinz said.

At the most recent Democratic candidate debate last week in Boston, fellow candidates Al Sharpton and John Edwards attacked Dean for comments he made to the Des Moines Register about the need for Democrats to woo Southern white voters. He said he wanted to be "the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks." Although Dean has used this phrase for months, he apologized for the comments last week.

While nationally Dean seems to have put this issue behind him, picking up the endorsements of two large and diverse labor unions this week, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union, it has been an issue at the College for several days.

Wednesday morning, posters set against a Confederate flag background were found around campus advertising yesterday's speech. The posters were purported to be sponsored by the Young Democrats, an accusation Heintz denied. As for whether yesterday's flag-wavers also authored the posters, Bielin declined comment, while Huang denied responsibility.

At the conclusion of Dean's speech and question and answer session, national media descended upon the demonstrators, including reporters from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe.

While on campus, Dean also held a conference call with members of Generation Dean, his youth organization. Nearby college-age and high school age Dean supporters joined with over one hundred Generation Dean members from Iowa State, American University, and Weslysan to discuss the proposed plan.