Last night President Barack Obama gave a forward-looking State of the Union address that offered many worthwhile proposals in the face of major domestic issues, read: the economy. While he addressed a wide range of topics, the president specifically elaborated on issues relevant to students across the nation, including access to education and a grim employment outlook for many college graduates. In order to make his proposals a reality, however, Congress must not continue their inefficient trends and stalling tactics, but rather, work with all parts of government in creating a better future for the United States.
The proposals put forth by Obama to improve access to higher education were fairly moderate, but were encouraging — a clear improvement over the status quo. He called on states to stop defunding higher education as a means of addressing budget crises, the policies have a long-term impact of creating an ill-prepared workforce. The University has been significantly affected in recent years by Lansing’s massive funding cuts, and tuition has risen at unprecedented levels in response to decreased public funding. Michigan’s legislators must take Obama’s message to heart and work toward more affordable higher education.
Several ideas Obama detailed are especially relevant to students, including doubling the number of work-study jobs over the next five years and extending federal tuition tax credits. He expressed his desire for Congress to stop interest rates on student loans from “doubling” within the next six months. Finally, he told colleges and universities that they must work hard to stop tuition increases, or risk losing public funds. Obama’s proposals would offer some relief to the countless students struggling to pay for higher education despite universities’ focus on maximizing endowment investments rather than increasing accessibility to eager students.
As part of his plan to address unemployment, which has decreased during his tenure, Obama called on Congress to take its responsibility seriously in funding essential research and development projects. High-tech research jobs have the potential to become careers for many college graduates and concurrently deliver incalculable benefits to society. Part of the president’s proposal to protect and expand private and public research and development revolved around a call to shift multi-billion dollar subsidies from oil companies to the development of clean energy projects, which would benefit states like Michigan, where the advanced battery industry is thriving and only has room to grow. This proposal, in particular, would serve dual purposes by creating jobs and moving toward a more sustainable nation.
Although many of Obama’s proposals were a positive step forward, they can’t be analyzed in a vacuum. When all is said and done, the State of the Union is only a speech. A year’s worth of detailed plans can’t be delivered in an hour-long address — especially one interrupted by what seemed like 59 minutes of clapping. It can’t be ignored that over the past three years the Obama administration has fallen short of many of his fundamental campaign goals, including promises to implement a public option for health care, closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and ending the Bush-era tax cuts. To assure that the proposals put forward last night positively affect students, and the entire country, Americans must avoid becoming apolitical bystanders expecting our government to benevolently work in the public’s interest.