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The Daily Wildcat

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Obama: Higher ed needs to be affordable

President Barack Obama participates in a conference call with college newspaper editors in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.
President Barack Obama participates in a conference call with college newspaper editors in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

The Arizona Daily Wildcat participated in a conference call with President Barack Obama on Monday.

Obama spoke at length about how to make higher education more affordable and effective in the U.S.

Student journalists from around the country participated in the call, where Obama discussed issues affecting students.

“”Our classrooms, our administrators, our students, you guys are going to drive future success of the United States,”” Obama said.

“”We have fallen behind. In a single generation, we have fallen from first to 12th in college graduation rates for young adults,”” Obama said. “”If we’re serious about building a stronger economy and making sure we succeed in the 21st century, then the single most important step we can take is to make sure that every young person gets the best education possible because countries that out-educate us are going to out-compete us tomorrow.””

Obama reiterated his goal for the U.S. to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020, a proposal he made during last year’s State of the Union address.

“”We’ve done OK in terms of college enrollment rates but more than a third of America’s college students, and more than half of our minority students, don’t earn a degree after six years and that’s a waste of potential,”” Obama said. “”Obviously it’s up to students to finish, but we can help remove some barriers.””

He cited the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, which would cap loan interest payments at 10 percent of monthly income and includes debt forgiveness after ten years for individuals who are employed in a public service field, raising the value of Pell Grants, and last year’s health care reform act as ways his administration is attempting to make college more affordable.

“”The key here is that we want to open the doors of our colleges and universities to more people so they can learn, they can graduate and they can succeed in life,”” Obama said.

Obama also extolled the value of community colleges, saying that Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, will hold the first White House Summit on Community Colleges next week.

“”That way stakeholders are going to be able to discuss how community colleges can make sure we’ve got the most educated workforce in the world in relevant subjects that help people get jobs,”” Obama said.

Participating student journalists repeatedly asked the president how best to make higher education a priority during a time of economic decline. Colin Daileda from Radford University asked whether Obama agreed that it would take this generation of college graduates longer to become successful after college because of lingering financial worries.

“”Don’t let anybody tell you that somehow your dreams are going to be constrained going forward,”” Obama said. “”You’re going through a slightly tougher period but, if you think about it, what we call the ‘greatest generation,’ my grandparent’s generation, they had a situation where unemployment reached 30 percent and they ended up essentially building the entire American middle class to what it was and making this the most powerful economy in the world.””

He also stressed that legislators need to work closely with university administrators to identify causes for recent inflation in tuition costs, which he said has been larger than health care inflation in recent years.

Obama also criticized institutional development of some universities, saying that renovation and construction of athletic facilities and other structures could be a reason why tuition is becoming more expensive.

“”One of the things we’re going to be doing is working with university presidents and college presidents to figure out how can we get control of costs generally and refocus our priorities and our intention on what the primary function of a university is and that is to give students the knowledge and skills that they need to have a fulfilling career when they get out, not to provide the best situation for the four years that they’re there,”” Obama said.

Obama expressed optimism for the future, though he said the biggest priority for him is to get the economy on track again.

“”I know we’ve gone through a tough time these last two years and I do worry sometimes that young folks having grown up or come of age in difficult economic times start feeling as if their horizons have to be lowered and they’ve got to set their sights lower than their parents or their grandparents,”” Obama said. “”And I just want to remind people that you guys all have enormous challenges that you’re going to have to face but you continue to live in the most vibrant, most dynamic, wealthiest nation on earth and if you are able to work together as a generation to tackle long-standing problems that you inherited, then there’s no reason why the 21st century is not going to be the American century just like the 20th century was.””

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