Public policy affects an increasingly large portion of our lives, and yet by and large Americans remain on the sidelines of the political process. Why?
“My voice doesn’t count.”
“One person can’t really effect change.”
We’ve heard them all before. You may have even said something similar to friends and family.
Strikingly, our younger generations tend to have the most interest in what happens in our nation’s capital and take the least effort to affect the process. Think about it. Name one political decision that does not have consequences for young Americans. Let’s examine just a few areas swirling around in today’s headlines:
- Young people are disproportionately affected by decisions regarding defense. Young adults make up the majority of our armed forces therefore making them large stakeholders in matters of war, national security etc.
- While young adults don’t pay taxes to the extent that others may, they will be asked to fix what some consider a “crippling national debt” in their lifetime. Inherently, young adults are affected by budgetary decisions today.
- Perhaps more than any other, today’s Education Policy affects who our nation is and what we become for generations. Think about it, as a child you benefit from a strong public education system. As a young adult, you are fortunate to live in a county that offers world class higher education opportunities. As a senior, you undoubtedly reap the rewards of an educated workforce in the form of Social Security.
- And yet…
Young Voters are Historically Absent from Policy Conversations
- Gen Y will make up 1/3 or 33% of the electorate for the 2016 elections. In 2008, that percentage was 19%.
- 22.8% of eligible “under 30” voters cast a ballot in 2010
- The percentage of voters under 30 actually decreased from both 2004 and 2008 to 2012
- The percentage of under 30 voters has never increased beyond its peak in 1972
- Only three presidential elections have had lower young voter turnout than 2012: 1988,1996,and 2000
What can we do to increase young voter participation in the political process?
As it turns out there is one group of voters under the age of 30 that are twice as likely to vote as their brethren, college grads. Check the numbers, this is not a new phenomenon. Again, this has been the case since the voting age was changed in 1972. Educated citizens are engaged citizens.
Higher Education in the Political Spotlight
Higher Education is in the political spotlight today for more reasons than rising federal student loan rates.
President Obama has put higher education in the nation’s spotlight by committing to “make college more affordable.” In his administration’s words President Obama describes why higher education has transcended other political decisions by saying:
“The average tuition at a public four-year college has increased by more than 250% over the past three decades, while incomes for typical families grew by 16%.”
The administration also recognizes declining state support for their own institutions:
“Declining state funding has forced students to shoulder a bigger proportion of college costs; tuition has almost doubled as a share of public college revenues over the past 25 years from 25 percent to 47 percent.”
While President Obama’s plan has many different strategies to achieve their goal of making college more affordable, you can rest assured that each one will affect you in some way.
So What’s the Plan?
President Obama’s plan largely rests on making colleges more accountable to students and their families. The performance of colleges will be analyzed and institutions that provide the “best value” will receive more federal aid. Undoubtedly, if you attend a “lower value” institution your cost of attendance may be on the rise. Conversely, if you attend a “higher value” institution you may see lowered tuition and/or fees due to increased federal aid to your college. Of course this is all speculation until a final plan is drawn, goes through Congress and is signed into law.
Another cornerstone provision of the Obama plan for making college affordable is ensuring that all students who qualify for income based repayment of federal student loans use it. The income based repayment plan offers borrowers the opportunity to “pay as you earn.” The “pay as you earn” plan caps federal student loan payments to 10% of income.
Clearly Legislation Affects Our Daily Lives
The President is calling on you to make your voice heard on this subject. I’m not advocating what your opinion should be, only that you participate. So do yourself, your wallet, your family and your country a favor, become an educated AND engaged member of society. The benefits are numerous and the effort is almost always worth the result.
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