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In speech, Obama focuses on college affordability

By Katie Burke, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 25, 2012

In his annual State of the Union address last night, President Barack Obama highlighted the necessity of economic and educational reform along with Congressional cooperation as the country continues its economic recovery.

Obama emphasized the importance of creating more jobs, holding a higher standard of accountability for Wall Street and Washington, increasing accessibility to higher education and continuing efforts for peace in the Middle East, all by creating an “America built to last.”

U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.) said in an interview with The Michigan Daily after the address that he felt the speech’s overall outlook was hopeful regarding ongoing efforts toward national recovery.

“It had an optimistic tone,” Dingell said. “(Obama) talked about making America better and he pointed out the state of our union is getting stronger.”

Job growth efforts have helped spur the creation of three million jobs in the past 22 months, Obama said. The president added that its necessary to prepare citizens for new jobs through higher education to successfully strengthening the nation.

“To prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, our commitment to skills and education has to start earlier,” Obama said.

A major obstacle to this objective is the rising cost of higher education, Obama said. He proposed changes such as making additional room in state budgets for financial aid and encouraging colleges and universities to keep their costs low by using technology and allowing students to graduate sooner.

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

Obama added having all students graduate from high school is imperative, and he encouraged states to pass laws mandating that every student graduate from high school.

“When students are not allowed to drop out, they do better,” Obama said. “So tonight, I am proposing that every state — every state — requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.”

University President Mary Sue Coleman said in a press release after the speech that she supported Obama’s call for increased accessibility of higher education, which came after she sent an open letter to the president last month in which she provided suggestions for decreasing the rising costs of universities around the nation.

“The only way to achieve the support necessary for public education today is through a shared commitment that includes the federal government, state government, the business sector, donors, parents and the universities themselves,” Coleman said in the release.

Michael Traugott, a research professor at the University’s Institute for Social Research, said in an interview after the speech that it will be a challenge to actually achieve Obama’s proposed education reforms since it’ll be up to the state governments to pursue the policies.

“(The reforms are) going to be difficult to implement because the federal government, outside of the (student) loan programs, doesn’t provide much direct assistance to colleges and universities that support things like tuition,” Traugott said.

Domestic economic reform was also at the forefront of Obama’s address. As multinational companies continue to outsource jobs, Obama stressed the importance of keeping and creating jobs in America, especially in cities dependent on manufacturing, like Detroit.

“What’s happening in Detroit can happen in other industries,” Obama said. “… It now makes business sense … to bring jobs back home.”

Obama noted the successful growth and restructuring of the automotive industry after the federal government bailed out Chrysler and General Motors in 2009.

“Today, General Motors is back on top as the world’s number-one automaker,” Obama said. “Chrysler has grown faster in the U.S. than any major car company. Ford is investing billions in U.S. plants and factories. And together, the entire industry added nearly 160,000 jobs.”

Obama also specifically referenced Michigan resident Bryan Ritterby who attended the speech, and found work at age 55 at a local wind turbine manufacturer.

“He found work at Energetx, a wind turbine manufacturer in Michigan," Obama said. "Before the recession, the factory only made luxury yachts. Today, it’s hiring workers like Bryan, who said, ‘I’m proud to be working in the industry of the future.’”

Sen. Carl Levin (D–Mich.) said in a press release that he welcomed the emphasis on the manufacturing industry and it’s place in the nation’s economic revival.

“(Obama’s) focus on American manufacturing is already paying off in Michigan, where manufacturing is on the rebound and can help lead the way to a new era of prosperity for the middle class,” Levin wrote in the release.

Public Policy senior Joe Sandman, communications director for the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said he is particularly looking forward to Obama’s upcoming visit to Al Glick Field House on Friday after the president spoke about education and the Michigan economy in the State of the Union address.

“(The visit is) really exciting,” Sandman said. “I think he’ll talk about the role of education in advancing the economy here in Michigan.”

LSA senior Anton Dirnberger, chair of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, wrote in an e-mail interview that the speech was more of a campaign tool than an address of national issues.

“The President is going to be visiting five battleground states in the coming days,” Dirnberger wrote. “… This State of the Union was simply a campaign speech to jumpstart that trip.”


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