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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Obama starts challenge on tuition

Published: January 27, 2012
Section: Front Page, News

President Obama prodded the nation about the growing gap between the necessity of higher education and the ability to afford it in his third State of the Union address Thursday evening. The president held colleges and universities accountable for their rising tuition bills, claiming that taxpayers’ funds will subsequently decrease if tuition continues to rise.

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

Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel, who oversees admissions and financial aid at Brandeis, did not respond to requests for comment.

Obama’s prime-time address also called on Congress to make permanent his tuition tax credit and to act to prevent spiked interest rates on the Stafford Loan, which are set to double in July.

“When kids do graduate [high school], the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college,” Obama said. “Congress needs to extend the tuition tax credit we started that saves middle-class families thousands of dollars.” The American Opportunity Tax Credit, proposed and passed in Obama’s first year in office, saves families $2,000 per year of a four-year degree.

Asserting that college affordability was directly connected to the low availability of skilled workers, specifically in science and technology-related fields, Obama said that “growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job—that’s inexcusable.”

Coupled with the additional job-focused training of two million more Americans, the administration intends to facilitate partnerships between companies through the use of community colleges. An easier platform for re-employment information would also be created with a unified website to “help people get jobs that are open today,” Obama said.

“I want to cut through the maze of confusing training programs, so that from now on, people have one program, one website and one place to go for all the information and help they need.”

Obama also reiterated his demand that the wealthy pay more in federal taxes. He said the nation’s fiscal reality demanded a choice between maintaining tax cuts for the upper class of wealthiest Americans and investing in medical research and education. “Because if we’re serious about paying down our debt, we can’t do both,” Obama said.

Investments in education through the plan would extend from early childhood to higher education programs and strive to increase accountability among teachers, parents, colleges and universities. In theory, the administration proposal would “restore the promise of America’s public education, and ensure that American children again lead the world in achievement, creativity and success,” Obama said.

He further noted that his Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 invests more than $40 billion in Pell Grants, increasing the nation’s foremost financial aid awards through time as tuition costs rise. The new law also made more low-income students eligible for the grant.

For many incoming class of 2015 Brandeis students, this legislation has affected them directly because of the increase in eligibility. “If it was not for my Pell Grant, I would not have been able to afford an education at such a prestigious university,” Sarah Hines ’15 said in an interview.

Many of the changes Obama called for Tuesday night in Washington aim to increase employment, and “to prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, our commitment to skills and education has to start earlier,” he said.

The president’s agenda will face continued partisanship during the election year with tax changes proving to be a hurdle for Obama as he concludes his first term as president.

Several of the president’s goals can begin within his own powers, such as his sole ability to set executive order or budgetary priorities.

Obama contended that “when we act together, there is nothing the United States of America can’t achieve.”