As I write this column, it is Sunday, November
5. Kerry Healey is in Haverhill
battling for her political life; Mitt Romney is in Arkansas.
Whether she wins or loses, I wonder how she will feel about Mitt’s absence throughout her campaign. How much would it
have cost him to let her shine a little? To make a deal with Christy Mihos? To make a few public appearances on her behalf?
It speaks to the character of Romney that he cares so little about his own supporters that he would abandon them to the Democratic
party’s political agenda- just like Mitt abandoned his job to go campaigning on the public's dime. But his admirers
are legion. And they just love to love him- no matter what he does. You’ve heard of a Jeffersonian Democrat; Mitt’s
a Clintonian Republican. His duped devotees remind me of Marlon Brando from On the Waterfront. “Mitt, you get a title shot in a ballpark… What do
we get? A one-way ticket to Palookaville…You was our brother Mitt, you shoulda looked out for us…”
A good example of “smoke and mirrors”
politics is the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship. Established in 2004 by Romney, it provides free tuition at a state college
or university to any Massachusetts high school student who
scores in the top 25% on the MCAS. It sounds wonderful, but it’s not. Here’s why.
Most people don’t realize
that state colleges and universities are heavily subsidized, and they couldn’t last a year without financial assistance
from the state, which accounts for the wide disparity between the tuition costs of public higher education and private colleges.
The system of financing public education in Massachusetts
operates with an odd loophole. The tuition that schools collect every semester must be sent in to Boston, while the schools get to keep the fees they charge. Remember that under Romney, Massachusetts ranked 47th in state spending per capita on higher education
and was the only state spending less on higher education than it was ten years
ago. With shrinking budgets the schools had to do something, so they realized that if tuition isn’t called tuition,
then it isn’t tuition. They started calling it a fee, a stratagem which has produced unfortunate consequences.
Here’s an example of how this plays
out: A young woman told me the following story: Being eligible for free tuition, she applied to take an online course at Bunker Hill Community College.
The cost of the course was $300, not including textbooks. After registering, she was presented with a bill of $276. When she
reminded them that the bill must be a mistake because she qualified for “free” tuition, they informed her that
the tuition for the course was $24, but the fees were $276. (remember, the schools keep fees, but not tuition) The cost of
the course was $300, only $24 of which was tuition. So she got 24 bucks from the
Romney plan, which paid for a half tank of gas and a cup of coffee.
For full-time college students, Mitt’s
scholarship is a band aid- with conditions attached. For example, the average tuition in the University of Massachusetts system is $1575.
At UMass Amherst, students pay $7400 in fees and $6200 for room and board. Figure about $1000 for books (conservatively) and
Romney’s scholarship covers less than 10% of an annual bill of 16 grand…and
only for four consecutive years and only if the student’s GPA stays above
3.0. And Mitt’s piddling scholarship doesn’t count at Massachusetts College of Art or the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
So the problem is not rising tuition costs,
but skyrocketing fees, which Romney never addressed. Two years ago, a bipartisan group that included business and community
leaders- the Massachusetts Senate Task Force on Public Higher Education- found “student charges consistently among the
highest in the country because of insufficient funding.” Who fills in the gaps in funding? The students and their parents
of course. No wonder then, that an increasing number of Massachusetts
residents can’t afford a college education, even at a state college. Which brings us back to the Orwellian question,
so apropos for the Romney administration: Since when is a fee not a tax?
There’s one good thing that comes
from all this, but it belongs to Romney: he will ascend the national stage and showcase his triumph in providing free
tuition scholarships to college students. No mention need be made of fees; the public won’t know any better. Mitt has
already referred publicly to his scholarship as “unprecedented in the nation.” Mitt dances away from the messes
he has made, flip-flopping, casting platitudes, talking out of both sides of his mouth. He’ll be anything you want him
to be-until he’s elected. Mitt Romney: a Clintonian Republican for our times.