While both presidential nominees say they are sensitive to the economic crisis that is crimping the college plans of American families, Barack Obama portrays himself as the candidate who has endured the same heartburn over student loans as many voters, and he is offering more direct help to students and parents than is John McCain, reports the New York Times. Barack and Michelle Obama paid off their last student loan on Jan. 17, 2004, a date they sometimes share with voters to commiserate over rising tuitions and the fact that the average graduating senior carries $21,000 in college debt. Obama personally took out $42,753 in loans for Harvard Law School, on top of several thousand dollars for his undergraduate education at Columbia University. McCain graduated from the United States Naval Academy debt-free, because the public military academies charge no tuition. Yet Obama’s proposals also come with some asterisks attached. He is calling for a $4,000 tax credit for tuition, which would mostly benefit middle-class families rather than low-income students who struggle the most with tuition increases and loan repayment. Recipients of the tax credit would have to perform 100 hours of community service. And it is not clear if Congress, in the current economy, would have the desire to enact the tuition tax credit, which would cost the Treasury an estimated $10 billion. McCain, on the other hand, would take a bully-pulpit approach to student aid, aides say. Rather than propose any new federal money, he would jawbone and publicly try to coax colleges to slow their rate of tuition increases, using the federal tax exemptions they receive as leverage. He also would press for a more robust student loan market, with flexible payment options and more competition in the hope of lowering interest rates, and he is calling for the Pell Grant, which assists low-income students, to be high enough to cover in-state undergraduate tuition. The maximum Pell Grant award is $4,731 a year; average in-state tuition and required fees in 2007-8 was $5,749…

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