President Clinton has been accused of election-year politicking over his proposal for massive tax breaks and financial aid to make college more affordable for children from middle-class families.
Mr Clinton called for a
tuition tax credit that would mostly benefit families earning between $80,000 (Pounds 50,000) and $120,000 who send their children to private universities. The plan would cost the government about $31 billion over the first ten years.
"When we open the doors to college, we open the doors to opportunity," said Mr Clinton, who also called for money to encourage university dropouts to re enrol and for increases in federal government student-loan programmes.
The announcement brought derision from critics, who said the proposal was a costly and unnecessary political gesture.
Even the generally supportive New York Times said: "If Mr Clinton's purpose was in part to reward well-off suburban voters that (his wife) Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to attract to win the Senate race in New York, then a scattershot tax credit is a dandy idea."
Education has been less of an issue in the presidential primary campaign, although candidates from both parties have come out in favour of expanding relatively modest existing tax credits for families that open savings accounts for university tuition starting at their children's births.
Vice-president Al Gore, the presumed Democrat nominee, also wants to increase the number of federal grants available to students.
Mr Gore's rival, former senator Bill Bradley, has proposed a $2 billion hand-out over five years to community colleges to improve technology training. Mr Bradley said: "Community colleges are the most cost efficient and effective way to train young people about to enter the economy, and older workers who may need to upgrade their skills."
Republican front-runner George W. Bush has denounced the use of racial quotas to increase diversity on university and college campuses.
Mr Bush has proposed nationalising a programme operating in his native Texas under which the top 10 per cent of graduates from every high school in the state is automatically admitted to a
public university to ensure that high-achieving students from low income areas are guaranteed higher education.
Mr Bush also wants to continue a tax credit for corporate-sponsored university research and development. But one of his opponents, publisher Steve Forbes, has argued for a flat tax that would eliminate deductions for most charitable contributions to institutions such as universities and colleges.
President Clinton's proposal for tuition tax credits is unlikely to find a smooth path through Congress. Last year, a similar proposal met with defeat and Mr Clinton's Republican opponents are unlikely to support any bill that gives the Democrats a political advantage.