It’s difficult to gauge whether Barack Obama has made any positive impacts on higher education in California during his presidency. To Californians, his recent statement at the Democratic National Convention that “millions of students are paying less for college today” seems laughably false. In this state, tuition has skyrocketed within the last four years, while our public universities suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts.
So why listen to the president now? Because the problems facing public education are intertwined with the nation’s economic challenges — both of which are key points in Obama’s campaign for re-election. It is critical for college students to make an informed decision at the polls on Nov. 6, since the impact of this election can affect the way our government approaches aid and accessibility to higher education.
In his speech accepting the Democratic nomination last Thursday, Obama mentioned two specific goals: giving 2 million workers the “chance to learn skills at their community college that will lead directly to a job” and working with higher education institutions “to cut in half the growth of tuition costs over the next 10 years.” But there is only so much he can do as president — much of the responsibility for maintaining public universities falls on the states’ shoulders.
Still, Obama rightfully acknowledged the important place higher education holds in our economy and society as a whole. The remarks follow a series of related actions he took this year, including outlining a plan that would shift federal aid away from universities that don’t keep tuition affordable and pushing for a congressional vote that prevented interest rates on student loans from doubling.
The dangerous state of public higher education is of course a symptom of the ailing economy, and universities will likely continue to struggle until the nation’s financial health improves. Obama recognizes that — but he won’t increase the burden on students to fix the situation, either.
Obama showed he understands where the federal government’s help can make a huge difference: financial aid. States must keep fees low, but the Obama administration can ensure that when students are seeking degrees, they have the monetary resources necessary to complete their education.
He also seems to recognize the realities and challenges of being a student in the United States today, even if he cannot address every issue. Republican candidate Mitt Romney, on the other hand, offered little substance in his convention address, aside from a vague comment that he wants to create “an America where every parent knows that their child will get an education that leads to a good job and a bright horizon.”
At the very least, Obama’s speech solidified where his priorities are when it comes to education. He believes in investing in the future as opposed to gutting resources — because “no family should have to set aside a college acceptance letter because they don’t have the money.” Californians should understand that message all too well.
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