Divining Our Future Candidates Barack Obama and John McCain have said little about how career colleges might fare under a new pr

There’s the popular image of a fortune-teller peering into a crystal ball to divine the future. That method might be as good as any in predicting what a President McCain or a President Obama might mean for career colleges.

In their published comments, neither candidate has mentioned career schools. Even the comments the candidates have made about education in general pale in comparison to those on Iraq, energy and the subprime mortgage crisis.

The dearth of commentary was summed up by the site FreeCollegeBlog.com way back in March, when Hillary Clinton was still in the running.

Senators and presidential candidates Obama, Hillary, and McCain don’t have very much to say about higher education and college tuition costs, the blog notes. In fact, McCain doesn’t have anything to say about college at all, and his Issues’ page on education focuses on accountability and expanding the No Child Left Behind program.

So what’s a soothsayer to do? For starters, pull out the word extrapolate.

By examining Barack Obama’s and John McCain’s comments on education and related subjects, a stab at how career colleges might fare can be ventured. At least one industry leader believes the career sector will determine its own fate  with McCain or Obama.

Most operators in this space historically adjust well to the known and unknown challenges, said James Haga, President and CEO of BrightStar Education Group.

Haga said that even banks and volatile credit markets  big factors for career colleges these days  will settle down and not require government intervention.

Nor do I believe the postsecondary/for-profit industry will suffer or flourish under an Obama or McCain administration, Haga said. While we are but just a few paragraphs (in the postsecondary sector at large), for-profit educators fuel the U.S. economy by providing job-ready graduates to industry.

Haga’s optimism provides a counterpoint to other views of what Obama or McCain may encounter. For one, many experts say that the subprime mortgage crisis has impacted how much money is available for college loans.

FreeCollegeBlog.com, which deals with college financing, notes that some lenders are changing how they decide where to make loans.

Citibank has taken this line of thinking further and identified entire categories of colleges that return a poor salary relative to their costs, and the biggest losers are community colleges, private for-profit colleges and less-traditional institutions, the site stated in a June posting.

In late July, the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority joined several other state-based lenders by announcing that it wouldn’t make college loans in 2008-09. It’s estimated the decision could send as many as 40,000 students scrambling for new loans.

So, how would McCain or Obama respond to a climate of financial uncertainty? Obama pledges to replace the current $1,650 Hope Credit with the fully renewable $4,000 annual American Opportunity Tax Credit.

According to Obama’s official web site, recipients of the new tax credit would be required to perform 100 hours of community service a year.

Obama has said the tax credit would even be available to low-income students whose parents don’t earn enough to pay taxes. It would also be advanceable so families could receive benefits when tuition is due, even before a current tax return is filed.

Obama has also promised to:

– Boost the maximum amount available for Pell Grants
– Require colleges to increase the percentage of work-study grants devoted to community service
– Simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by having parents simply check a box on their tax returns
– Support both the TRIO and GEAR UP programs, which aim to prepare and motivate low-income and first-generation students to attend college
– Create the Community College Partnership Program, which would provide two-year colleges with grants to identify in-demand skills and training and to create related Associate degree programs

Predicting what effect McCain might have on career colleges is tougher. His education web site deals solely with his advocacy for public school vouchers. Higher education isn’t mentioned.

McCain’s stances are hinted at in his speeches, though. Speaking at the July convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, McCain notes that 400,000 Americans lost jobs this past year.

In the same speech, he characterizes job training as an essential priority, along with national security and care for veterans.

McCain’s NAACP comments picked up on a theme expressed earlier to the National Council of La Raza Convention.

Americans are worried about the security of their current job, and they’re worried that they, their kids and their neighbors may not find good jobs and new opportunities in the future, McCain said.

McCain pledges to double the personal exemption from $3,500 to $7,000 for every dependent, for every family in America as a means to stimulate the economy. If enacted, the spill-off could help career colleges.

McCain also notes that he has a plan to ensure that healthcare and a quality education are available for all.

At its core, McCain said, the economy is about giving workers the education and training to find a good job and prosper in it.

Although he provides few specifics, McCain has said he would use community colleges to help train individuals who have lost jobs to foreign competition.

Those hurt by outsourced jobs may overlap families impacted by the subprime mortgage crisis. In the online article Subprime Obama posted Jan. 24, author Max Fraser notes who’s hurt most by the crisis and its spillover effect on other financial markets, including college loans.

These lenders have targeted the most vulnerable  black and Latino borrowers have been twice as likely to receive subprime loans as whites; female homeowners, 30 percent more likely than male; black women, five times more likely than white men, Fraser writes.

Statistics show those groups account for around two-fifths of students enrolled at career colleges.

It’s impossible to do more than take a stab at what impact a McCain or Obama presidency might have on career education.

BrightStar Education’s Haga said the question will be settled on a global playing field.

America’s ability to compete will determine how soon she will improve economically, Haga said.

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