PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) on Tuesday touted his plans to help students pay for college as he warned that "a promise broken" by President Bush had denied higher education to thousands of Americans.
"People have actually been denied access to the college of their choice," Kerry said.
The Massachusetts senator met with students and officials at the University of Rhode Island (search) to hear tales of their struggle with tuition costs that have soared in recent years. He said he would offer a $4,000 tuition tax credit and would pay for college for those who agreed to public service as part of his effort to broaden access to higher education.
One student, Heather Briggum, said she hopes to get an advanced degree but is facing debt approaching $40,000.
"I'm going to graduate from college with an incredible amount of debt," Briggum said. Another student, Allison DePetrillo, said college finances were "a daily struggle."
Kerry is visiting campuses this week to rally younger voters to his campaign. He opened the tour Monday at the University of New Hampshire (search), where he used a noisy campus rally to renew his call for a comprehensive commitment to national service by all and proposed to link tuition aid to national service.
Kerry also faced questions about Iraq when he dropped in on a class on U.S. foreign policy. The first question put to him by a student in New Hampshire asked what he would do to solve the "mess in Iraq."
Kerry said he would keep the United States in control of the military operation in Iraq, and he repeated his call for greater international involvement in the effort to stabilize and rebuild the country.
"I would summon the world to an effort the world has a stake in," he said.
Kerry voted to authorize the war with Iraq, but he has become increasingly critical of what he says is Bush's unilateral approach to the conflict. He also voted against $87 billion in aid for U.S. troops and to pay for the reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kerry said he would do the opposite of Bush and not push away other nations. He also said he would approach the United Nations (search) for help identifying who should be involved in the coming transfer of power to the Iraqis.
"The president has been silent on this. The administration hasn't described who they're transferring authority to in about 80 days," Kerry said, referring to the administration's June 30 deadline.
Bush was holding a news conference Tuesday night to address rising casualties and instability in Iraq.
On higher education, Kerry's campaign says the average cost of tuition at public colleges increased 28 percent between the 2000-2001 and 2003-2004 school years — rising to $4,694 from $3,478.
When adjusted for inflation, Kerry's campaign said the increase amounts to 13 percent during the period, which it claims is the largest increase on record.
Kerry education adviser Robert Gordon said 220,000 people were priced out of college as a result. He said states facing a combined $200 billion deficit had little choice but to make painful spending cuts, including to higher education.
Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel argued that Bush has offered the "most significant educational reforms in a generation." Stanzel said Kerry "would return us to the policies of Jimmy Carter."
In his speech, Kerry said it was time to make four years of college affordable and available to all who want it.
"We'll help you pay for school, and we'll help even more if you're willing to serve your country. And together, we'll make 2004 the last year that debt and dollar signs come before degrees and dreams for the future."
After the speech, Kerry declined to comment on a now-declassified Aug. 6, 2001, presidential briefing document that updated Bush on efforts by the Al Qaeda terrorist network to strike on U.S. soil.
Kerry said only that he had read the memo, but that "it takes some digesting."