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Youth feeling shortchanged on education issues in campaign

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By Jacquelyn Williams
Trice Edney News Wire

Despite three debates and a bitterly fought presidential race, young voters are still waiting to hear details of the candidates’ plans for affordable education.

“I hear Romney and Obama talking about what they will do in terms of making college more affordable for us but it all just seems like political rhetoric, honestly,” said Claudia Brito, a 19-year-old sophomore at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, Calif.

President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, in a neck-in-neck — 47 percent to 47 percent — race, according to polls of likely voters this week, will need to win the votes of youth and college students. The number of 18- to 29-year-olds makes up a healthy 21 percent of the voting eligible population in the U.S., according to civicyouth.org. Though youth are usually stereotyped as a lethargic group, there was a 51 percent youth voter turnout in 2008, largely in favor of President Obama.

Youth do not appear as mobilized this time around. This is all the more reason many are waiting to be courted.

“It’s kind of weird, I know a lot of people my age that couldn’t care any less about the election, but on the other hand I know a lot of them that do care about it,” said Nesrin Ahmed, a sophomore at Mt. St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles.

Despite the value of the youth vote, the subject of education has not been dealt with in the past two presidential debates and Monday’s debate focused on foreign policy.

This is to the dismay of young voters waiting to hear more on issues like what the candidates would specifically do to make education more affordable for students who don’t have the resources to pay for college.

“I had to take out federal loans to pay for college, but I am not looking forward to the burden of debt I’m going to have when I get out, that alone discourages a lot of people from attending four-year colleges,” said Rufus Humphrey, Jr., 19, a student at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville.

In July, President Obama signed legislation that prevented the 3.4 percent interest rates on subsidized Stafford federal loans for undergraduate students from doubling to 6.8 percent.

“The legislation the president passed over the summer was a life saver, but it should not have to get to that level for action to be taken,” said 23-year-old Obama supporter and Northern Arizona student Ryan Moore. The two candidates have very different approaches to the education issue, but their detailed plans have not been on display through much of their campaigns.

John Raymond, a senior at Clemson University, said he is not singularly focused on education per se. Many youth are looking at broader issues like the condition of the economy once they graduate.

“I want to vote for Romney because I am pretty much in agreement with him when it comes to many things, but to be honest his lack of detail on his plans for financial aid concerns me,” said 22-year-old John Raymond, a senior at Clemson University in South Carolina.

As the electorate gets closer to Nov. 6, many issues have been covered such as abortion, health care, the economy and jobs. Spin-offs from the debates have included the “Big Bird” debate over what programs Romney would cut and even jokes over the “binders of women” comment made by Romney in response to a question about his support for equal pay for women.

Yet, the key demographic of youth voters apparently feels shortchanged.

“Education and this student loans issue is the only thing keeping me undecided at this point,” said Angela Martinez, 20, also from Los Angeles. “I just want to see who is willing to earn my vote by actually detailing their plan.”

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