News From Washington May 2024

Administration May 2024 PREMIUM

There are currently rising concerns about student voter registration favoring conservative demographics, escalating college costs leading to financial aid confusion, and campus violence intersecting with freedom of speech amid socio-political tensions.


Concerns Rise about Registering Students on Campus to Vote

Even as college campuses across the nation settle into the last weeks of classes and coming final exams, they are also preparing for the big November 5 national event: voting in the Presidential election. Campaigns to get students to “commit to voting as an act of love” have already begun at some Catholic universities, like Georgetown in Washington DC. According to the Ignatian Solidarity Network, “students will be encouraged to utilize social media and various virtual and in-person resources to mobilize and engage Gen Z in the election.”

However, there are also concerns about student registration campaigns. Some Democrats fear that a lot of the money and effort to get “everyone to register to vote” in the end will help Republicans register increasing numbers of young people leaning conservative or independent, and re-elect Donald Trump as President. The Washington Post reported on April 2, 2024, that: “A confidential memo circulated among top Democratic donors inquired about using more targeted registration techniques to filter out likely Trump voters… especially among voters of color.”  “This memo is keeping me up at night,” said Maria Teresa Kumar, CEO of VotoLatino.

Student voters also need to be clear that anyone under 18 and/or who is not a US citizen (including green card Permanent Residents) is not eligible to vote, even though they may successfully secure a voter registration card. Out-of-state American citizen students also should be clear that while they can legally register to vote in two or more different states or addresses (in their home state and on their campus,for instance), they can, by law, only cast one vote. Out-of-state students in DC are encouraged to cast absentee ballots in their home states “in order to have at least a tiny voice in the composition of Congress,” some DC voter activists point out, since the District of Columbia has no congressional nor senate representatives.  

College Fees of $100,000 Annually and Messy Loan Programs Confuse College Plans

 At almost all public and private colleges, costs to earn a college degree have risen at rates well beyond annual inflation. Usually, the alarm is buffeted by the futurist mantra: “But a college degree is worth one million more in individual income over a student’s lifetime, so it’s worth the cost!” But, of course, everyone knows that the one million dollar gain is contingent on the student’s major field of study (degrees in engineering and business potentially earn more than degrees in the liberal arts, for instance). Earnings also depend on the job and job site, of course. But the cost-benefit analysis usually shows a win for the degree no matter what the cost. These concerns went viral last month after reports that the annual fees for college tuition and living costs at a number of private colleges – some elite and some not so much – would be over $90,000 per year.

The Biden administration has been persistent over the past three years in proposing and promoting several government supported student loan forgiveness programs to help cut heavy student debt loads. The first two were deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court because the funding process went beyond the President’s authority to raise new taxpayer money notalready approved in his annual budget (only Congress can do that). But in March, the President again rolled out a new, more modest ($20,000) loan forgiveness program. 

However, incoming students remain confused about what college will cost them.  A major glitch in the rollout of new FAFSE applications is unhelpful. To date, in mid April and well into the admissions decision period, many students are not sure what kind of student aid and future debt forgiveness they can plan for. The result may be a significant decrease in student applications and enrollment in the fall of 2024. A new administration will need to focus instead on ways to cut student and college costs. Recently, it was reported that a coalition of colleges is developing the possibility of a three year degree on their campus.Other ideas include various combinations of work apprenticeship and on-line educational programs. For many colleges, increasing the number of full-tuition-paying international students is the answer to having their cake and eating it too.

Violence and Freedom of Speech

Everyone has observed in the past few months that the progressive movement called DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) on university campuses and in “woke” corporations went a little too far in choosing students, employees and board members based on their “race” or membership in an “under-represented” group. It had sunken down to irrefutable racism. Many institutions and even states began shutting down their DEI offices and programs last winter and are searching for better forms of selection, some based on merit. But since October 7, when militant Hamas members attacked Israel, and in the following months, as Israel hit back hard, college campuses and streets have filled with protestors. In recent weeks, protestors have closed down streets, even bridges, stormed university administrative offices and attacked any opposition. On April 22, the University of Columbia called on New York police to dismantle protestors’ tent “villages” and urged all its Jewish-heritage students not to come on campus because they couldn’t assure their safety. In most instances where violence has broken out, university spokespeople have called it “freedom of speech” and the right to protest.  

Hispanic Outlook readers who saw this movie for years in the 1970s and 80s have experience and insight into how this may end. Not well! Especially if administrators and those in authority wait too long to act and bring order to their campuses. Some of us older folks may remember how the FOS (Freedom of Speech) movement demanded that everyone have the right to speak and be heard everywhere on campus, not limited to one small “square of freedom.”

Now, everyone needs to learn the art of compromise. In fact, it’s beginning to look like even Congress is learning that lesson.

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