With the presidential contest nearing its climax, National Public Radio recently did an interesting story comparing the two candidates’ proposals. While neither candidate really has what could be characterized as a robust plan to reduce the cost of college (or even prevent costs from continuing to climb), there are significant differences in the proposals.

According to the piece by Claudio Sanchez at All Things Considered:

Here’s what President Obama has done to help families pay for college: He negotiated a deal with Congress this summer that kept the interest rate on government-backed Stafford loans from doubling for 7.5 million students. [This saved students borrowers at most $9 a month.]

Obama’s income-based repayment plan will eventually cap students’ loan payments at 10 percent of discretionary monthly income. He also poured billions of dollars more into federal aid for low-income students.

President Barack Obama also earlier in the year proposed a plan to tie federal education money to college’s efforts to keep tuition down. That’s apparently no longer a proposal, at least for this election season.

Neither of the administration’s remaining strategies do anything to reduce the cost of college. They’re merely plans to help students manage the debt they accrue going to college. The Romney campaign could focus on this weakness, but it probably won’t. That’s because Gov. Mitt Romney also has no plans to reduce the cost of college.

According to the NPR story:

…Romney’s goal is to reduce the number of people on Pell grants by raising the eligibility requirements. Although there’s no specific mention of this in Romney’s campaign literature, his running mate, Paul Ryan, is calling for a 20 percent reduction in domestic spending, including education.

Romney also wants to bring banks back into the federal student program, a policy Obama eliminated when he signed the health care bill in 2010.

Which policy plan would be better for American students? It’s sort of hard to tell; neither would really be all that great. The basic difference, according to the NPR story,
comes down to this: “either the government spends more to help families pay for college [Obama-Biden] or it spends less to save taxpayers money [Romney-Ryan].”

It’s a relatively uninspiring choice like this that perhaps begins to explain why college students aren’t all that excited about this election.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer