Current Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2013 22:15:20 -0500
President Barack Obama won re-election Tuesday — a signal that voters were willing to stay the course with the president and his plans for long-term economic recovery.
After a close and bitterly fought contest with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Obama won 303 electoral votes compared to 203 for Mitt Romney as of 1 a.m., according to unofficial results.
But Obama’s victory was not as pronounced as it was in 2008, leading Romney by only about 127,000 votes.
Romney achieved victory in North Carolina — a state he needed to win — by 51 percent to 48 percent, according to unofficial results, but the state did not play a significant role in the overall tally of electoral college votes.
Obama’s victory was a celebration for campaign workers who put in long hours for the president.
“The world follows America and President Obama. If the world would have voted tonight, they would have voted for Obama,” said Siddhi Shonibare, a campaign worker.
Obama will again benefit from the perceived mandate that comes from winning a national election, but there are several pressing issues awaiting the president as he returns to the Oval Office — including some that affect university students.
Public criticism of Congress intensified in the last few years as both chambers failed to compromise with the president on a major deficit reduction plan.
The partisan climate will likely continue in the near term with Republicans retaining control of the U.S. House and Democrats control of the U.S. Senate, according to unofficial results Tuesday.
“There is no clear mandate for either party,” said Kimrey Rhinehardt, vice president for federal relations for the UNC system. “All parties will need to come together and compromise.”
Higher education issues
The most immediate crisis facing members of Congress and President Obama is the $1.2 trillion in budget cuts during an eight-year period that could go into effect in 2013 — enacted in a budgetary process last year known as sequestration — if lawmakers fail to reach a deal by the start of next year.
Those potential cuts would translate into a loss of $79 million in research and other funding for the UNC system. Rhinehardt said House and Senate leadership will likely pass a short-term deal to postpone major budgetary decisions.
Significant changes might also be in store for federal financial aid programs.
Interest rates on subsidized student loans — currently at 3.4 percent — could double if Congress doesn’t take action before July 1 of next year. And Pell grants, the federal government’s largest need-based aid program, face a $7 billion funding shortfall in 2014.
Obama advocated for keeping student loan interest rates low at a speech at UNC in April, and his budget proposed increasing the maximum Pell grant award to $5,635 for 2013-14.
But those stances might put him at loggerheads with congressional Republicans, who more closely align with Romney and his vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan’s views on aid programs.
Ryan, the House budget committee chairman, proposed maintaining the current maximum award level of $5,550 for Pell Grants recipients and limiting aid to the most needy. His budget would also eliminate the subsidy on student loan interest rates.
Rhinehardt said middle-class students stand to lose no matter what deal is reached between Obama and lawmakers. Pushing up the maximum award for grants or tweaking the eligibility requirements tends to benefit low-income students and squeeze out the rest, she said.
But Mitch Kokai, political analyst for the right-leaning John Locke Foundation, said Republicans should stand their ground on federal aid to curb tuition hikes and reorder the priorities of universities.
“Universities have been responding to (increased aid) by taking as much as that money as they can,” he said. “There hasn’t been as much focus as there should be on how students who are in college get jobs when they get out.”
Jobs for graduates
Recent college graduates have been hit particularly hard by the recession. In 2011, 53.6 percent of bachelor’s degree holders under the age of 25 were jobless or underemployed nationwide.
Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University, estimates that 85 percent of what happens to the economy is beyond the control of the White House.
Still, Walden said he expects the economy and the outlook for recent graduates to slowly improve.
Josh Milian, a junior at UNC, said he’s worried about federal inaction in D.C.
“I think the outcome will be the same as it’s been in the past couple of years. Nothing is going to get done,” he said. “I hope the president comes together with Republicans and meets them halfway, so we aren’t always stuck in a gridlock.”
But Rob Schofield, director of research and policy development at the left-leaning think tank N.C. Policy Watch, said college graduates and prospective students will continue to benefit from Obama’s long-term goal of expanding access to higher education.
“The economy is rebounding — albeit slowly — and there is cause for optimism. If we stay on the course we are on at the national level, we can expect opportunities to increase going forward,” he said.
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