HANOVER, N.H. – Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean (search) on Thursday offered a plan to provide college students with $10,000 a year in federal financial aid as part of his $7.1 billion higher education program.
Arguing that President Bush's tax cuts have resulted in cuts in Pell grants (search) and other financial help, Dean proposed that students be entitled to $10,000 for post-secondary schooling, whether at a traditional college or university or in high-skills training.
Dean would finance his plan by repealing all of Bush's tax cuts.
"When he signed the Higher Education Act of 1965 (search), Lyndon Johnson said, 'A high school senior anywhere in this great land of ours can apply to any college or university in any one of the 50 states and not be turned away because their family is poor.' But that vision is far from fulfilled," Dean said in a speech at Dartmouth College.
The former Vermont governor would guarantee that Americans would not have to pay more than 10 percent of their income toward loans after graduation. He would hold the debt obligation to 7 percent for students entering what he dubbed the "Public Service Corps (search)" - professions such as nursing, teaching, social work, law enforcement, firefighting and emergency medical care.
To qualify, students in eighth grade would have to commit to attending college and their families would be provided advance calculations of the federal aid that they could qualify for. All debts would be considered paid in full 10 years after graduation.
"When students enter high school, they need to know that the door to college is open to them," Dean said.
Higher education costs have caught the attention of many of the Democrats seeking their party's presidential nomination. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina has proposed revising the national college loan program by eliminating banks' role in student loans.
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has proposed a $3.2 billion community service plan for high school students that would qualify for them for the equivalent of their state's four-year public college tuition.
As part of his plan, Dean also would quadruple the number of people serving in AmeriCorps to 250,000.
As Dean was introduced at the Ivy League college, a group of about nine students unfurled a Confederate flag. Last week, Dean touched off a storm of criticism when he said he wanted to be "the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks." He belatedly apologized for the remark.
The students, who stood with the flag draped across their shoulders, did not otherwise disrupt the speech, and Dean did not acknowledge their presence.
Si Huang said he and his fellow students wanted to make a statement about what they felt was Dean's inappropriate use of the Confederate flag (search) image. "We felt his apology was insufficient," said Huang, 19, of Boston.
Posters on the campus about Dean's appearance also had the image of the Confederate flag, and the words "sponsored by Young Democrats." But the president of Young Democrats (search) at Dartmouth, Paul Heintz of Cambridge, Mass., said his group had nothing to do with them.
"I would say it has a lot more to do with a very small number of students who are socially conservative," said Heintz, who backs Dean.