Dems’ victory may cause financial aid changes

By Kate Augusto

Last week’s Democratic takeover of Congress could be good news for students financially, according to experts.

As the Democrats begin their first session in power since 1995, America will watch as they attempt to enact their proposed six-point agenda, known as “6 for ’06,” within the first 100 hours of the new Congress.

Making college tuition tax deductible, cutting federal student loan interests and expanding Pell grants are issues Democrats would like to see through.

Seamus Harreys, dean of Student Financial Services, said making college tuition tax deductible “encourages access [to education] across all types of students and all types of sectors.”

It will particularly helps Northeastern students, many of whom rely on their parents to partially support the $29,910 a year tuition, not including the cost of room, board and other expenses, Harreys said.

Congress plans to work toward cutting the interest rates on the federal unsubsidized Stafford Loan, Harreys said. The Stafford Loan currently has an interest rate of 6.8 percent, said Kevin Bruns, Executive Director of America’s Student Loan Providers.

Stafford Loans are capped every school year, beginning freshman year at $3,500. The proposal could have a significant impact on the approximately 60 percent of college students who attend schools costing less than $6,000 a year if they get the Stafford loan, Bruns said.

Freshman psychology major Becky Levy said she thinks the policy would be a good idea.

“The price of college keeps going up and the last thing students want to think about when they get out is paying off all the loans they owe to the government,” Levy said.

Bruns said he hopes Democrats will make the issue a priority, but they haven’t had to address how they will fund the $40 to $60 billion it will cost the government to change interest rates, he said.

“It’s possible, but they [Congress] will need to make the numbers work,” Harreys said. “Of course more educated people means you have more people out being creative, which spurs the economy. You may not see it for five to 10 years, but these people are the ones who will be fixing our local, national and international problems.”

Federal Pell Grants, which do not have to be repaid, are also part of the Democrats’ initiative to make college more affordable. These grants were capped at $4,050 for the past few years, Bruns said, which means its value has declined over time due to inflation. Part of the Democrats’ agenda is to increase the maximum value of Pell Grants.

But there was more at stake in the election than financial aid.

Last Thursday, local political observers gathered to discuss the 2006 election outcomes, which they said reflect voter dissatisfaction across the nation with contemporary government policies.

The discussion,”The Impact of the 2006 Elections,” featured two Northeastern political science professors, former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and William Mayer, who characterized himself as the lone Republican in the Northeastern political science department. Director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center David Paleologos also spoke. Topics included policy on the war in Iraq, projections for the 2008 presidential election and the abilities of newly-elected Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick.

In the opening remarks, Mayer told the audience of about 125 people that the Republican defeat can be blamed in part on public opposition to the war.

The Democratic sweep of the House and Senate will lead to a change in Iraqi policy and significant judiciary grid-lock, he said.

Paleologos, who did not state his political affiliation, said the outcome of the election would have been different if President Bush had higher public approval. He said the low approval rating caused voters to lean against Republican incumbents.

“In Massachusetts, more people were anti-incumbent and had had enough,” Paleologos said.

Dukakis credited Patrick’s grassroots strategy for his win.

“The reason [Democrats] kept losing [for governor] is because no candidates invested in a grassroots campaign,” said Dukakis, who was the last Democratic governor of Massachusetts in 1991. Paleologos said it was this grassroots effort that brought the high turnout in the 18 to 24 age range.

Middler journalism major Megan Blumenthal said understanding these issues is important for college students.

“A lot of people [my age] don’t vote but should because we have the power to change things,” Blumenthal said.

An audience member asked when Patrick’s policies would begin taking effect.

Paleologos suggested Patrick may be better at campaigning than being governor, and Mayer said Patrick never made clear plans in his campaign, especially for the budget.

“It is much easier to please different groups [of people] on the campaign trail,” Mayer said.

Audience members asked many questions regarding the impact the governor election will have on the 2008 presidential elections. One audience member asked what chance current Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has of winning the presidency in 2008.

“I’m puzzled by Romney’s pursuit of office. [All he has] is a huge series of negatives,” Mayer said. Romney lacks popularity, an impressive gubernatorial record and foreign policy experience, he said.

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