The University Record, January 30, 1995

Education is key to Clinton’s vision

By Rebecca A. Doyle

“Education is the central key to the president’s vision for the American future,” Henry Cisneros told an overflow audience last week in the Michigan Union. “Education has become the centerpiece of his middle class bill of rights.”

Cisneros visited the U-M the day after President Clinton’s State of the Union address to help interpret the president’s vision for education, the national service program and student loan reform.

“We are interested in what the president said last night about higher education, in the president’s endorsement of the direct student loan program and about economic development,” said Walter Harrison, vice president for university relations, in introducing Cisneros.

“Education is the vehicle that will move us through this time of unsettling change,” Cisneros said. “Large corporations are downsizing, the number of high-paying blue collar jobs has declined, people can no longer count on working for one employer for 20 or 30 years.”

Students can expect to change not only jobs, but career paths at least two or three times during their working years, he said, and may finally end up in a career that doesn’t yet exist.

“Investing in the country means investing in education,” he said, “and that is why the president put education at the top of his American middle-class bill of rights.”

Beginning in 1996, according to Clinton’s proposal, up to $5,000 per year can be deducted from taxable income to cover the cost of education and training for taxpayers, and up to $10,000 by 1999.

“This means thousands of dollars less a year in taxes paid,” Cisneros said. “That is an incentive to invest in education.”

Clinton’s proposal also includes a tax-free individual retirement account that would be accessible without penalty for education, medical bills, care of parents or buying a first home. Cisneros said that penalty-free withdrawals also could be made for starting a new business or “any number of other things.”

The president’s vision also calls for reforming federal job-training programs by including distribution of vouchers worth up to $2,600 each year that could be used by displaced workers to learn new job skills while they look for employment.

“They can get new jobs with new skills at new income levels instead of being forever trapped under their previous skill levels,” Cisneros said.

The U-M is one of 104 schools in the nation participating in a pilot program that loans federal funds directly to students.

“I’m very pleased to say the University of Michigan is the lead university in this program in the country—first to use it and the largest user of it,” Cisneros said. As part of the student loan reform plan, the program has lowered fees and interest rates on loans for middle class students, he noted.

More than 1,500 universities are expected to use the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program next year. The loan program was named for the Michigan congressman who chaired the House Education Committee and worked for passage of the bill.

Gray-shirted students participating in the AmeriCorps program listened intently as Cisneros talked about the 20,000 young people who will be sent around the country this year “to work with churches and synagogues and charitable organizations and nonprofit groups to make this a better place to live.”

“People have criticized AmeriCorps,” he continued. “But I don’t know how it is possible to criticize young people who choose to work not for huge salaries, but for a reasonable stipend, and do service to their country. We owe these young people a special recognition.” Clinton announced his plans for the AmeriCorps program at the U-M Oct. 19, 1992, during a campaign tour, in much the same way President John F. Kennedy unveiled plans for the Peace Corps 30 years earlier.

“This is the American version of the Peace Corps,” Cisneros declared, citing service projects aimed at young homeless people, programs that are working because most AmeriCorps workers are near the age of those needing help and relate more easily.

AmeriCorps is one of the areas in which Clinton has “drawn the line,” Cisneros said. “You heard him say that was one of the things he was going to fight for, and I was very proud.”

Clinton has said that he will fight to uphold the ban on assault weapons, to prevent reduction of Medicare or Social Security benefits and to retain the AmeriCorps program, but these and other proposals face stiff opposition from a Republican-controlled Congress that the Clinton administration has said may try to balance the budget at the cost of Medicare, Social Security and other domestic programs.

Concluding his presentation, Cisneros told the students they “should feel confident to be in your generation in this institution at a time when the American people are being called upon today to invest in education, invest in our students, invest in our future—and that means you.”