Sept. 20, 2012— -- How would Mitt Romney make college more affordable?
That was one of the pressing questions for Latinos in the audience at his "Meet the Candidate" event here at the University of Miami. Many in the audience -- made up mostly of young Republicans -- expressed concern about the exploding cost of college tuition and other education challenges facing the community.
"Every 26 seconds a student drops out of high school in the United States and Hispanics are the ones who have the highest drop out rate," said Univision anchor Jorge Ramos. "41 percent of Hispanics older than 20 years don't have a high school diploma. And only 13 percent actually graduate from a university or college."
Romney was pressed on his plan for Pell Grants, which are federal grants offered to students, particularly low-income students, to help pay for school.
"As many students do, I depend on financial aid that the government gives me to be able to attend university, including the Pell Grant," said student Connie Fossi. "That's why I'm so concerned about what Paul Ryan said, specifically the reduction of that program and the amount of students that qualify to get the benefits of that program. This is my question. Are you going to follow Paul Ryan's advice or are you going to take a bigger path?"
Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, has backed a plan that could signifigantly reduce Pell Grant funding. He has said the rising cost of financial aid contributes to rising tuition costs, and that the funding needs to be more narrowly targeted at the truly needy.
Romney said he wanted to stem the rate of increase in grant funding, but stance stance differes somewhat from Ryan's approach.
"My inclination would be to have them go with the rate of inflation. I think it's important in higher education that we get serious about the fact that the inflation of tuition has been much faster than inflation generally," he said. "And my view is we have to hold down the rate of tuition increases and fee increases in higher education."
While Romney said he would let the program modestly increase with inflation, Ryan's plan would cap it.
"The Ryan budget would both cut Pell benefits and eligibility and freeze the maximum grant at $5,550 per student per year, apparently on a permanent basis," writes the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "Together, these changes would reduce the program's funding needs by roughly $50 billion over ten years, by making fewer lower-income students eligible for the grants and reducing the size of the grants for students who still can receive them."
President Obama "would allow the maximum Pell award to increase as scheduled under current law and would not change eligibility or benefits. Instead, it would provide another temporary pool of fixed mandatory funding and would offset those costs with reductions in other mandatory programs."
Overall, Romney said that increasing eligiblity for loans could burden students in the long run.
"Hey, I'll loan you more money," Romney said. "Here let's loan you -- I don't want to overwhelm you with debts. I want you to make sure you can pay back the debts you've already got and that will happen with good jobs and that's why my five-point plan to get 12 million new jobs in this country is the best thing I can do for you and for the students of America."
Pivoting from education to gay marriage, Jorge Ramos asked Romney hypothetically what he would do if one of his relatives wanted to enter a same-sex marriage.
"Well, my kids are all married, so I'd be surprised," he initially quipped, before restating his position against gay marriage.
"My view is this, that individuals should be able to pursue a relationship of love and respect, and raise a family as they would choose," he said. "I would like to have the term 'marriage' continue to be associated with a relationship between one man and one woman. And that certainly doesn't prevent two people of the same gender living in a loving relationship together, having a domestic partnership, if you will. I can see rights, such as hospital visitation rights, and similar types of things, being provided to those individuals. But marriage for me continues to be a relationship between a man and a woman."