In his sixth State of the Union address Tuesday, President Barack Obama called for wider access to higher education and implored Congress to fully subsidize the cost of community college for qualified students.
“Forty percent of our college students choose community college,” Obama said. “Some are young and starting out. Some are older and looking for a better job. Some are veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market. Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt. … I want to work with this Congress to make sure Americans already burdened with student loans can reduce their monthly payments, so that student debt doesn’t derail anyone’s dreams.”
History professor Jeremi Suri said he appreciated Obama’s emphasis on training people for higher-paying job fields, such as coding, nursing and robotics.
“More and more, anyone who wants to succeed in society needs a college education, needs to be a knowledgeable worker,” Suri said. “It’s also true many people are priced out of the market, so providing them with better aid makes better sense.”
University Democrats President Michelle Willoughby said she does not think financial burdens should keep people from going to college.
“I think that public education is the most important thing that the state and country funds, because it educates future leaders,” Willoughby said. “But public education is taxpayer dollars, so, if we stop after 12th grade, we’re not maximizing on our investment. I think it’s important that everyone who wants access to higher education can have it. Just from a financial standpoint, it doesn’t make sense.”
Suri said while access to higher education is important, he had hoped the president would address issues of quality of education as well.
“Getting [people] to school is the most important thing, but equally important is providing them with the best college education,” Suri said. “I think they could also do more by investing in research, teaching, in infrastructure of community colleges and less well-endowed institutions.”
Obama urged Congress to set aside politics to work with his “practical, not partisan” ideas.
“We believed we could prepare our kids for a more competitive world,” Obama said. “And today, our younger students have earned the highest math and reading scores on record. Our high school graduation rate has hit an all-time high. And more Americans finish college than ever before.”
Suri said Obama’s speech would not affect how well Republicans and Democrats work together in Congress.
“His saying won’t [change anything]; the question is whether voters and public interest groups start saying that,” Suri said. “What’s going to change is if those watching say we don’t want anymore government shutdowns, partisanship.”