Education is critical issue in 2016 election

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Every four years the Democratic and Republican National Conventions rally Americans together around their formation of a party platform. Celebrities, figures from the upper echelons of political life, social leaders, and individuals chosen for their representation of the party's strength speak live to a convention crowd and, through the media, speak to an audience of millions and millions across the globe. It is these conventions that help direct the future of a party, and show Americans — and the world — what they value. Given the content of these conventions and their published platforms, it becomes clear to me that, as students at four-year institutions, a Republican president would be hugely damaging to the university system in this country, and the steps that have been made to bring higher education to an increasingly diverse group of individuals.

The Republican Convention had the potential to use its flip-flopping presidential candidate to move the party to a more progressive platform, since attracting young and disappointed Senator Sanders supporters is key to winning the fall election—and indeed ensuring the stability of the Republican party moving forward. However, beneath the bigotry, ignorance, and hypocrisy that is quintessential to the Trump campaign, key issue platforms remain solidly in the conservative camp. With students as the future of America, education and loan policies are not only personally important to current and future students, but also of significance to the future of the country and America's ability to remain competitive internationally.

The Republican platform's stance on education is troubling in several ways, the most evident of which is the issue of college costs. To combat student debt, which, according to the published Republican Party platform, averages 27-thousand dollars per student, the Grand Old Party proposes to promote trade schools, technical colleges, and other academic alternatives to compete with traditional four-year private and public universities. While I believe these institutions are immeasurably valuable in society and should have increased support and funding from the federal government, this will not help those millions of young Americans drowning in a quagmire of debt. Not only does their platform not address how to financially aid those struggling, but it also proposes to remove the government from being the guarantor of student loans. By taking the federal government out of the loan market, in addition to not regulating the accreditation of institutions, this platform would give the power of shaping young minds — arguably the strongest power a nation has — to the private sector, and thus big money industries. With corporatization of universities already a huge issue, granting financing power to private companies without a clear plan for loan regulation would allow these powerful organizations even more sway in the world of academia. Corporatization leads to a wide variety of university problems, from diminished teacher tenure to restricted research opportunities. America is a haven for innovation and intellectual freedom and altering policy in this manner could not only hugely damage the lives of students, but also stifle revolutionary thought and invention.

On the other hand, the Democratic Party's platform has clear intention to make higher education affordable to more Americans. According to the platform, "bold new investments by the federal government, coupled with states reinvesting in higher education and colleges holding the line on costs, will ensure that Americans of all backgrounds will be prepared for the jobs and economy of the future." As a college student, I understand that the power of education lies within its ability to gather individuals from different backgrounds to share ideas together. This platform recognizes that vital focus, instead of giving other organizations the power to manipulate what others can learn, and potentially restricting who can access education altogether. The Democrats' platform goes one step further in ensuring that those who might be underrepresented in higher education get the chance to succeed. By supporting what they term Minority-Serving Institutions, the platform expressed their desire to further fund institutions that prioritize and celebrate Americans who have historically not been given a fighting chance. The Democrats' plan for student debt relief will also enhance opportunities for many college-educated Americans to contribute more to society by being able to re-finance their loans, or pay back money owed through income-based repayment, as Democrats hope to expand that payment option to more americans.

If Carnegie Mellon has taught me anything, it's that I have learned the most from being given the freedom to pursue what I want, being supported by extremely talented faculty, and having a community of diverse, brilliant minds. The Republican Convention's policies regarding education undermine what many universities stand for and would actively encourage what they fight so hard against. It is so easy to take education for granted, as a student at a renowned university, but this election shows us that there is so much at stake.

In an election where one major party candidate seems so appalling and unreal, and the other is deemed untrustworthy by many, it is easy to get caught up in skepticism. But I encourage everyone to take a moment to consider education — what it means to them, and how this election might threaten that.

The DNC brought up time and time again: Donald Trump's campaign's strategy is to terrify individuals into backing a certain person, terrify them about the dangers of the world, and increase distrust through misinformation. The solution to combatting fear like this is intelligence, it is level headedness, it is awareness and not ignorance. As Obama said at the convention, "we are not a fragile people." But in times of darkness and under duress, people's strength comes from an ability to synthesize information and work together, and we cannot afford to sacrifice these skills by letting Republican politicians lay siege to intellectual freedom and access to higher education.