Obama on Education: Make It Available to All

Obama’s State of the Union Address Showed the President’s Intention to Make Education More Affordable


(Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)

With outstanding tuition balances beyond comprehension, unemployment rates breaching the ceiling and the presidential election on the horizon, education is a crisis in dire need of attention. For President Obama, it is all hands on deck.

In his State of the Union address last Tuesday, Obama emphatically called for an education intervention that would, for the first time, give federal campus aid to colleges that sought to improve tuition affordability for its students.

While Obama’s announcement struck a chord of hope with students and their struggling families, it shot fire at colleges and universities who benefit from harvesting revenue out of their students. Obama threatened to withdraw taxpayers’ funds from institutions that insist on “jacking up” tuition by the year.

According to his administration, Obama plans to decrease interest rates for the 7.4 million people in student debt, double the number of work-study programs over the next five years and entrench the expiring American Opportunity Tax Credit, an act that qualifies more students and their parents for a tax credit that can be forwarded towards tuition.

In addition, Obama is implementing a “Financial Aid Shopping Sheet” for students, detailing college expenses, graduation rates and potential earnings in an easy-on-the-eyes education map—one that will surely resurrect my vision after having been blinded by my Fordham tuition bill embellished with an endless string of zeros.

Obama’s efforts to break students, like myself, with a lower-class background free from the punishment of student debt are gratifying. Even more is his call for attention on colleges’ due responsibility to maintain affordability for their students. Obama’s education plan is a wake-up call for universities all across the board and a big score for students who desire to pursue higher education. In what his critics describe as “political theatre” is Obama’s call for education reformation that has the American dream taking center stage.

In efforts to keep interest rates low, even if only for a year, Obama seeks to stop the Stafford loan from doubling its interest from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.While this freeze will be paired with a 1.8 percent increase on Perkins loan interests rates, (the backbone argument of opponents to his education plan), the net gain is still, by far, in our favor. To put icing on the cake, Obama raised the Pell Grant up from $4,730 to $5,635—a first since Bush’s presidential term. Taking five leaps forward at the expense of taking one back is better than kicking our feet up altogether.

In raising the Pell Grant, President Obama responds to our nation’s ever increasing dropout crisis among high school students. One million (one in three) teenagers each year do not finish high school—half of them Latino and African Americans. “A high school dropout has made, on average, about $10,000 less per year than a high school graduate,” Obama said in his State of Union address. “In fact…a high school dropout has been more than three times as likely to be out of work as someone with at least a college degree.” With more doors opening for students that could lead to a college education, our economy would be bolstered by a citizenship with better jobs and better salaries.

The one million children put into classrooms, who would have otherwise more likely committed crimes, done drugs or become teen parents, would save the country from great strife and lower the number of young people who would end up in jail after turning to a life of crime when they have no other option. Expenses to be spent on prison upkeep (the overcapacity of which is a crisis of its own), public services and state child support over the course of our generation and the generations following would undoubtedly encourage our politicians to think about preventing such problems by making education more available to this country’s youth.

What we thought came to a crashing halt in the midst of the 2008 recession is slowly revamping. The American dream is starting with the belief that an education is open to all despite race and social class. Critics call Obama’s emphatic education address an impossible attempt at utopia. Whether overarching or not, I commend his call for reform, for change surely isn’t going to happen overnight if we put it off for tomorrow.