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Student voters, lowest demographic

Jordan Voigt-Nordberg, Features Editor
November 9, 2012

Attending a university is a rite of passage for many people before entering adulthood, however, if students can expect a debt load of $26,000, a college degree isn’t something everyone can afford; this hasn’t been an issue politicians are making a priority in this election.

Pete Helgason, history senior and political activist, said, “If the student population would get involved, it would change the election.”

According to the Census Bureau, voters 18-24 years of age have a participation rate of about 20 percent, as opposed to 40 percent participation for the overall population. Some say if student voter participation increased, it would change the issues addressed by politicians, and, at the same time, improve the economy.

Bryan McQuide, assistant professor of political studies, said politicians do have to accomplish things for citizens to keep approval ratings, but for the most part, they address issues to get elected.

Doug Wiig, professor of political science, said in the eyes of politicians, they don’t have much reason to make the issues of young people a priority.

McQuide said, Voter participation increases with age, so the highest turnout is typically people older than 65. To appeal to this demographic, politicians address things like social security and Medicaid.

“Students know they are never going to see social security. They think they have no reason to listen to what is going on,” McQuide said.

McQuide said one of the biggest issues for student-age voters is the cost of higher education. Many think student loan debt is a big issue in the economy.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, total student loan debt is now more than $1 trillion, up from $200 billion in 2000. Some students are graduating with debt equal to the cost of buying a home, then finding jobs at department stores and restaurants.

Courtney Criner, Iowa State alumna, said she has more than $50,000 in student loans because her family made too much money to qualify her for federal loans, and her private loans accumulated interest the whole time she was in school.

“I have had to work at full-time status for the past four years, two of which I was in school full time as well. I work in my field with an inconsistent schedule that includes nights and weekends, making a second job difficult to schedule in, and my student loan payments alone are 50 percent of my monthly income,” Criner said.

McQuide said when students can’t get jobs in their field it affects the economy.

“When college graduates have to spend half their income making student loan payments, it’s just money not going into the economy on things like iPads and new cars,” McQuide said.

“I work my ass off to not make ends meet. I would have been better off at this point in my life not going to college and simply waiting tables,” Criner said.

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