President Obama’s college tour glimpses next year’s debate around Higher Education Act


Photo: President Barack Obama talks with college students, recent graduates and educators at a deli as a child plays on the floor, in Rochester, N.Y. The President stopped at the restaurant during his recent college affordability bus tour. (Photo by Pete Souza)

By Brian Washington

President Obama is setting the national stage for the upcoming debate that is sure to surround the Higher Education Act next year when it comes up for reauthorization.

The president recently embarked on a tour of several cities in the northeast to discuss how to make to make higher education affordable and accessible to more students—two themes that will definitely be a part of next year’s reauthorization debate.

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During a stop in western New York, President Obama told a group of college students gathered at SUNY Buffalo (see video below) that a higher education is the single best investment young people can make towards the future.

PA future educator Cassie Rosenwald
PA future educator Cassie Rosenwald

“Higher education is still the best ticket to upward mobility in America,” said the president, “and if we don’t do something about keeping it within reach, it will create problems for economic mobility for generations to come. And that’s not acceptable.”

The average college student graduates with about $26,000 in debt. However, Cassie Rosenwald, who attends Carlow University in Pittsburgh, a small, private, liberal arts college where she says she thrives in classes that often contain no more than 13 students, will graduate next year with more than $80,000 in student loan debt. Rosenwald has a vested interest in helping the President advance the college affordability debate next year and says the best thing that she and other students can do is tell their stories.

“It’s not easy being a student right now,” said Rosenwald, who says she had to take out loans not only in her name, but her mother’s name as well. “Everyone says you must get a college degree, but it’s not always the most affordable option and that’s the sad thing. Everybody should be allowed to go to college.”

As part of student loan reforms enacted two years ago, President Obama persuaded lawmakers on Capitol Hill to cap loan repayments at 10 percent of a student’s post-college income. The “Pay-As-You-Earn” plan has helped more than 2.5 million students so far, but President Obama wants Congress to open it up to more students. On the surface, Rosenwald says that sounds like a good plan.


PA future educator Cassis Rosenwald
PA future educator Cassis Rosenwald

“I think I would have to hear more about it, but it sounds like a good idea,” said Rosenwald, who says she’s concerned about being able to repay her loans on an educator’s salary. “That is something I am very worried about, especially since I have them not only in my name but in my mother’s name as well.”

The President is also pushing for states to spend less on prisons and more on pathways for middle class students to get a higher education. He says a college degree is one of the cornerstones of what it means to be middle class in America.

“This is something that everybody knows you need—a college education,” said the president, who says getting a degree has never been more expensive than it is today. “Over the past three decades, the average tuition at a public four-year college has gone up by more than 250 percent—250 percent. Now a typical family’s income has only gone up 16 percent. So think about that—tuition has gone up 250 percent; income gone up 16 percent. That’s a big gap.”

How have rising costs affected you? Are you one of the millions of Americans affected by student debt? Whether you’re a student, a parent or an educator, please share your story.

Reader Comments

  1. Talk about the best ticket to upward mobility? Of course education is the key! Isn’t this one of the keys to closing achievement gaps?

    What about the extra millions that is being spent on our prisons? That’s money that could be used for education, to prevent individuals from ending up in prison! Again, upward mobility!

    Why not focus the money on investing, like education and affordable higher education; not because we need to fund housing criminals? We are stabbing ourselves in the back by focusing precious dollars on reactions, instead of prevention and some intervention?

    As a public education teacher, I struggle with repaying my loans. My monthly payment is much more than my car payment for a used 2005 economy car that gets me from point A to point B. I don’t want to see this happen for my students who realize the possibility of attending college to have a much better life. As well as those who might get past their situation and become resilient enough to see higher education as a possibility.

    Utah teacher

  2. One wonders how young people can be making such foolish investment decisions as to run up nearly six figures in debt while pursuing low value certificates offering little opportunity to ever escape debt-based self-enslavement. Someone — a parent, a financial aid counsellor, a college counsellor — needs to talk some sense into these young people before they are allowed to so badly damage their future adulthoods. Everyone in the United States is allowed to go to college if such is desired — but that doesn’t mean that someone other than the beneficiary has to pay for it. In truth, society should invest in free higher education for our young people with most scholastic aptitude, but should require from them a much higher level of preparation than our high schools are producing, rendering the student’s likelihood of benefiting from such higher education and repaying society with much higher subsequent productivity much more plausible.

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