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Will the November election results of 2006 bring dramatic changes to colleges?

As a result of the November 2006 elections, peace on Earth will be born, poverty will disappear, everyone will be able to afford college and socialized medicine will be warmly embraced and available for all. Socialism will finally come to America!

Expectations from this election were just a wee bit out of control. The Democrats will restore their place as major political players and agenda setters in the Congress, but will still have to contend with executive and judicial branches that have scoured democracy in profound ways.

With Democrats in control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, the exchange on Capitol Hill is expected to rekindle arguments on how rising college costs can be more affordable for students and parents. Already looking towards January when Democrats take over, Democratic leaders have moved quickly to lay out an list of issues and possible plans that includes increasing spending on need-based financial aid and cut the interest rates on student loans.

Affirmative action debates that college officials thought had largely moved to the back burner has resurfaced in the state of Michigan where voters backed a ballot measure to prohibit racial and gender preferences by public colleges and state agencies. Supporters now say that the victory could inspire and win similar campaigns in other states.

College ballot measure spectators were surprised by how much attention political candidates gave to higher education issues. "College affordability got air time in an awful lot of campaigns" said Patrick M. Callan, President of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. "No one got elected because of it, but they at least talked about the issue. There's more awareness now, and that's a positive development."

Soon after the election results were announced, Donald H. Rumsfeld, proclaimed his resignation and the Bush administration chose the President of Texas A&M University, Robert M. Gates to be the next secretary of defense.

These new election winners may very well dramatically reform the leadership of key committees that deal with an assortment of higher education topics to colleges. The Democrats definitely have a plan in works that include student aid and moving ahead in legislation to train more scientists and engineers and to expand federal financing of stem-cell research.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to become the next speaker of the House, wants a plan regarding college affordability put in place in 100 hours, not the traditional 100 days that most new presidential administrations are judged on.

In the Senate however, even with the switch in political party dominance, the chamber's view on certain higher education priorities is unlikely to change much. The Senate is expected to continue its insistent approach to the oversight of nonprofit organizations. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus of Montana, has worked directly with the current chairman, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, in his efforts to push for more accountability from charities and colleges.

Even with the Democrats controlling both chambers in Congress, plenty of obstacles remain for their propositions. This new majority was gathered together with middle-of-the-road conservative candidates running in some Republican districts, and it's unclear whether these newly elected Democratic lawmakers will help promote the party's agenda.

New dollars are always difficult to find in the federal budget and dub ya Bush still has the power of the veto.

Lastly, the time frame for the Democrats is short: The 2008 elections are now less than 24 months away, and by the end of next year, the presidential campaign for both parties will begin again.


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