Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney hammered President Barack Obama on the high unemployment rate among young college graduates during Tuesday’s presidential debate, briefly bringing into focus education policy issues in a town hall largely dominated by other topics.
At the beginning of the debate, a 20-year-old college student named Jeremy asked Romney to reassure him that will be able to support himself upon graduation.
Romney responded that college students across America were asking themselves the same question, and that he has a plan to correct the problem.
“What we have to do is two things,” Romney said. “We have to make sure that we make it easier for kids to afford college, and also make sure that when they get out of college, there’s a job.”
The former governor of Massachusetts said that he established a scholarship while in office to help top high-school graduates in the state attend college tuition-free, and hinted that a similar program might work nationally.
“We have not made the progress we need to make to put people back to work,” Romney said. “That’s why I put out a five-point plan that gets America 12 million new jobs in four years and rising take-home pay.”
Obama agreed with Romney that student loans should be freely available, and added that community colleges should be able to retrain workers rapidly.
“What I want to do is build on the five million jobs that we’ve created over the last 30 months in the private sector alone,” Obama said. “And there are a bunch of things that we can do to make sure your future is bright.”
Later in the debate, the president pointed to his record of supporting Pell Grants.
“We’ve expanded Pell Grants for millions of people, including millions of young women, all across the country,” the president told Katherine, an undecided voter who asked about income and gender inequality. “We did it by taking $60 billion that was going to banks and lenders as middlemen for the student loan program.”
“An economy with – with 50 percent of kids graduating from college that can’t find a job, or a college-level job, that’s not what we have to have,” Romney countered.