Students wary of rising college tuition, anticipate Senatorial candidate debate

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Students in organizations representing both sides of the aisle hope U.S. Senate candidates Ted Cruz and Paul Sadler will address the cost of higher education and health care reform during their first televised debate Tuesday night.

Republican Ted Cruz, former solicitor general of Texas and former UT law professor, is competing against Democrat Paul Sadler, a former state representative, for the seat occupied by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is not seeking re-election.

Sadler served in the Texas Legislature from 1991 to 2003, including 10 years on the House Public Education Committee. He sponsored bills including the Ratliff-Sadler Act in 1995, a comprehensive education reform bill that removed the responsibility of appointing the commissioner of education from the State Board of Education and gave it to the governor, and established the State Board for Educator Certification, among other reforms. The bill was signed into law by then-Gov. George W. Bush. Cruz served as state solicitor general from 2003 to 2008 and argued nine cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Leslie Tisdale, president of University Democrats, said she hopes the candidates will focus on student loans and tuition rates.

The Department of Education released numbers Friday showing that 9.1 percent of the 4.1 million student loan borrowers who began repayments between Oct. 1, 2009, and Sept. 30, 2010 defaulted before Sept. 30, 2011. According to a Sept. 26 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 19 percent of households owed student loan debt in 2010, averaging out at $26,682 per household. The Texas Tribune reported that the average cost of attendance at UT for fiscal year 2012-13 is $9,794.

Tisdale said she hopes the candidates will also discuss the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and that students will watch the debate.

“These are the issues we’re going to inherit, and that’s why it’s crucial to stay informed and participate in elections,” she said.

Tisdale said she believes Sadler is a more qualified candidate for the U.S. Senate seat than Cruz because Sadler has served in the state legislature and is more attuned to the legislative process.

Danny Zeng, communications director for College Republicans at Texas, said he also hopes the candidates will discuss the rising cost of attending college. Zeng said the increasing costs are dissuading potential students from attending college.

He said Sadler displayed bipartisanship during his time in the Texas Legislature, but voters may not be looking for those qualities in a candidate.

“We’re not looking for politics as usual,” he said. “We’re looking for someone to represent the views of the people of Texas.”

He said he hopes the candidates will also address the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and how to fund entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Assistant government professor Bethany Albertson said she has seen no evidence that political debates help voters decide which candidate to support, but evidence does show that voters are more informed after watching debates. She said voters often think the candidate they supported going into the debate won the debate. 

“Given that the average American doesn’t know much about politics, debates are a great opportunity for learning,” she said.

Calls and emails to both campaigns were not returned by press time.

The debate will air at 7 p.m. on TXCN and can be streamed at WFAA.com.

The candidates have agreed to another televised debate in Dallas that will air at 7 p.m. Oct. 19 on KERA-TV.

Printed on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 as: Students anticipate Cruz, Sadler debates