Obama pushes for college affordability, says higher education ‘can’t be a luxury’

The State of the Union address President Barack Obama delivered Tuesday focused mainly on closing the wealth gap and creating jobs as ways to improve the nation’s economy.

However, in his third State of the Union, Obama presented a renewed focus on education as necessary for pulling the country out of the recession.

“Higher education can’t be a luxury — it’s an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford,” Obama said.

He called on Congress to “stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July” and to “extend the tuition tax credit … that saves middle-class families thousands of dollars.”

And for individual states, he said they need to make “higher education a higher priority in their budgets.”

Read the NPR transcript of what Obama said about higher education Tuesday:

When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college. At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt, this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July. Extend the tuition tax credit we started that saves middle-class families thousands of dollars. And give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years.

Of course, it’s not enough for us to increase student aid. We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money. States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets. And colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down. Recently, I spoke with a group of college presidents who’ve done just that. Some schools re-design courses to help students finish more quickly. Some use better technology. The point is, it’s possible. So let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down. Higher education can’t be a luxury — it’s an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.

Let’s also remember that hundreds of thousands of talented, hardworking students in this country face another challenge: The fact that they aren’t yet American citizens. Many were brought here as small children, are American through and through, yet they live every day with the threat of deportation. Others came more recently, to study business and science and engineering, but as soon as they get their degree, we send them home to invent new products and create new jobs somewhere else.

That doesn’t make sense.

Soumya Karlamangla is the city news editor.