Vice Presidential Candidates Give Little Education Insight in Debate

Election 2016
Posted By Derek Johnson on October 7, 2016 at 9:30 am
Vice Presidential Candidates Give Little Education Insight in Debate
Republican vice-presidential nominee Gov. Mike Pence shakes hands with Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine during the vice-presidential debate at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Another 2016 election debate, another missed opportunity to learn more about each ticket’s higher education plans.

The Vice Presidential debate between Republican Gov. Mike Pence and Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine followed a familiar pattern that has frustrated education policy experts throughout the campaign season. With two highly controversial and scandal-plagued candidates at the top of the ticket, there has often been little oxygen left in the room to discuss substantive higher-education issues. As a result, the country is once again left with a poor understanding of how Hillary Clinton’s expensive debt-free college plan will be able to pass through a divided and gridlocked Congress, or whether Donald Trump even has a higher education platform.

So instead we must look to other sources for hints of what a Clinton/Kaine or Trump/Pence administration might do in regards to higher education. In the case of the two vice presidential candidates, both have long and detailed records that could potentially guide higher education policy decisions in 2017 and beyond. Here’s a look at some of higher education highlights for each candidate:


Career and Technical Education: Pence is a big proponent of career and technical education, voting in favor of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act in 2006 as a congressman. While running for governor, he often touted the importance of vocational training to give high school graduates better job prospects that don’t require a four-year degree. After being elected, he continued that support, pushing for and signing a pair of bills in 2013: one to build partnerships between private sector companies and high schools and another to centralize and align state resources on job creation and education. At the time he called the measures essential to reducing high school dropout rates and creating jobs.

“With more relevant career and technical education in our local schools, we’ll encourage more Hoosiers to stay in school and finish school and set more of our kids on a path to success in high school and beyond,” said Pence after signing the bills.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities: As a congressman, Pence voted against $84 million in additional grant funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s).

Indiana Higher Education Cuts: His higher education record as governor of Indiana is more muddled, and easy to distort one way or the other depending on which side of the aisle one favors. Like many governors, Pence is constitutionally required to present a balanced the budget. In leaner economic times, this often means that governors must choose to make painful cuts – and take the political heat that comes with them – in a way that federal legislators can avoid through deficit spending. When faced with a budget shortfall in 2014, Pence closed the gap in part through a $27 million cut in higher education funding. For this he was castigated by the Clinton campaign for supposedly “slashing” education funding in Indiana. rated this claim by Clinton as “false” while noting, among other things, that total higher education funding after Pence’s cuts were still higher than previous budgets even after adjusting for inflation.

Pence for his part, also received a gentle slap on the wrist from Politifact for exaggerating his commitment to state education spending after he claimed Indiana invested a record amount on education priorities during his tenure, though that figure includes K-12 spending.

Student Loans: Pence is no stranger to the student loan crisis. CNN reported in August that Pence had taken out as much as $280,000 in student loans for his children to attend college.

“Like many American families, we have been fortunate and blessed to raise three wonderful children and put them through college while doing work that we love,” Pence said in response to the report.

Guided Pathways to Success: In 2014 Pence announced that Indiana would be one of three states to participate in a pilot program to help boost college graduation rates. The program, known as Guided Pathways to Success (GPS) is a highly regimented form of advisement that simplifies a student’s college career path, from course selection and schedule to tutoring and remediation. The initiative is supported by organizations like Complete College America and the Lumina Foundation, which have warned that the vast majority of students in college do not graduate on time or at all.


Career and Technical Education: Like his counterpart, Kaine is a big booster for CTE, founding the Senate’s career and technical education caucus and helping to rewrite the Perkins Act. He also introduced a bill in the Senate to allow certain CTE programs to accept federal student aid.

Higher Education Cuts: Throughout his political career, Kaine has frequently expressed the important role that higher learning plays in training a competent workforce and creating jobs. So it may surprise some to learn that Kaine actually presided over fairly substantial cuts to higher education spending during his single term as Virginia’s governor. These cuts coincided with sharp rises in tuition at Virginia colleges, 31 percent at four-year colleges and 24.5 percent at community colleges.

While it is true that higher education spending took a haircut under Kaine, it’s important to remember that these actions took place in the shadow of the Great Recession, which badly impacted employment and sapped tax revenue coffers across the country, causing a cascading effect on state and local budgets that forced most states to dramatically cut spending. In Virginia, Kaine was battling a $1.3 billion budget shortfall at the time, and in addition to education cuts wound up eliminating approximately 1,000 state jobs, reducing payments to the state’s pension system and taking a 5 percent pay cut.

Student Loan Interest Rates: While running for the Senate in 2012, Kaine supported keeping the federal government as direct student loan lenders and was in favor of cutting the student loan interest rate.

School and Facilities Construction: In 2007 Kaine proposed and helped convince state lawmakers to borrow $1.5 billion in bonds to facilitate construction projects at public colleges and universities across the state. The initiative is considered to be the largest higher education construction package in state history.

Tuition-free college: Even before being named as her vice presidential nominee, Kaine’s views on paying for college matched up fairly neatly with Clinton’s. In May, he filled out a higher education survey where he supported an income test for any universal higher education proposal (to ensure students from wealthier backgrounds weren’t getting a free ride) and expressed skepticism about the viability of Bernie Sanders tuition-free college proposal.

“I think we need to be realistic and pragmatic when we look for strategies to lower the costs of college, not making promises that may be impossible to keep,” he wrote when asked about Sanders’ plan.

Derek Johnson
Derek Johnson is a writer, journalist and editor based out of Virginia. He received a Master’s degree in Public Policy at George Mason University and a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University.

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