Presidential candidate talks higher education funding

Steven Barnum , News editor

Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke kicked off his campaign trail in Iowa last Thursday after announcing that he will run for president of the United States.

The Texas native served on the El Paso City Council before representing the 16th congressional district of the state. He stepped down in 2018 and committed to running for a Senate seat. Senator Ted Cruz, the incumbent, retained the seat by less than three percent.

O’Rourke joined the already crowded field of candidates in the 2020 race to the Democratic nomination. With less than one year left until the Iowa caucuses, Democratic hopefuls are looking to build a case on why they are the strongest voice to represent the party.

After the recent layoffs at Western Illinois University, the funding of higher education may be a top concern for voters in the Macomb region. O’Rourke talked with the Western Courier about his intentions at the Beancounter Coffeehouse and Drinkery in Burlington, Iowa.

“We would be fools not to ensure that every single American can avail themselves of higher education,” O’Rourke said. “It’s an investment that we will have to make. It’s not inexpensive, but the cost of not making that investment is even bigger.”

One of the ways that O’Rourke said that would help students and those who just recently joined the workforce would be to eliminate the $1.5 trillion in outstanding student-loan debt that exists in America at this moment. He said that he also believes in expanding the opportunities that future workers have in apprenticeships and trade.

“We can make sure that community colleges are an intrical part of higher education,” he said, “and that cost is not an object or a barrier to more Americans being able to get more education.”

O’Rourke said that these goals cannot be achieved without implementing before college.

“We can begin in high school,” O’Rourke said, “by making sure that credit hours are earned at no expense and no debt to the students and their family.”

After gaining national attention through his campaign message, O’Rourke raised more than $78 million; almost double the amount that Senator Cruz collected. O’Rourke plans to run a similar grassroots-like campaign in his quest for the presidency, but he declined to say how much his supporters have donated since he announced he will run. He will also make sure that education is a large part of his platform.

“We know that educational attainment is correlated with what you’re able to earn over the course of your lifetime,” he said.

Presidential hopefuls will make their way across the state of Iowa, where O’Rourke also campaigned in Keokuk. After the Iowa caucuses, the race will head to New Hampshire and South Carolina.

To watch O’Rourke’s speeches and question and answer sessions, you can view them on the Western Courier pages on Twitter and Facebook.