President Barack Obama hosted a conference call for student journalists Monday morning, where he discussed higher education and answered questions from students about the upcoming future for graduates.
“I’ve been talking about this a lot lately. We have fallen behind,” Obama said. “In a single generation, we’ve fallen from first to 12th in college graduation rates.”
The Daily Trojan participated in the phone call along with other student journalists from universities across the nation.
Obama began the call by outlining the financial aid efforts his administration has made to make college more affordable.
These include increased Pell Grants, loan forgiveness, federal loan directions, college tax credits and the healthcare reform.
“The single most important step we can take is to make sure that every young person gets the best education possible,” Obama said. “What I’ve done, starting with this past year’s State of the Union address, is proposed that by 2020, we once again are No. 1.”
During the call, the president also emphasized the need for college completion and the recent failure of the Dream Act, which would have allowed undocumented young adults who have lived in the United States for more than five years and arrived before they were 16 to gain citizenship after two years in a university or the military.
One of his main goals, he said, was to ensure that higher education was accessible to everyone, despite the inflating cost of tuition. According to Obama, higher education inflation is currently increasing at a faster rate than healthcare cost inflation.
“The key here is that we want to open the doors of our colleges and universities,” Obama said.
Obama also said Vice President Joe Biden plans to hold a summit next week on community colleges.
“Part of what I think we’ve got to examine is [if we are] designing our universities in a way that focuses on the primary thing, which is education,” Obama said. “There should be a pie chart at every university that says, out of every dollar you spend in tuition, here’s where your money is going.”
Students were also given the opportunity to ask Obama questions during the 29-minute phone call. One of the four remarks made was concerning the job outlook for students after graduation.
“I’ve heard some of my professors call our generation the ‘lost generation’ because we’re going to get out of school with a ton of debt due to student loans and not be able to pay them off,” said Colin Daileda, a student at Radford University.
The president replied that there were still opportunities for students who tailored their education toward certain fields, such as clean energy.
“If you are getting a college degree, if you’ve got skills in math or science … there are still jobs out there even in a tough environment. Nine of 10 people who are looking for work can still find work,” he said.
With the upcoming midterm elections, Obama said it was necessary for students to get just as involved as they did during the 2008 presidential election.
“Even though this may not be as exciting as a presidential election, it’s going to make a huge difference in terms of whether we’re going to be able to move our agenda forward over the next couple of years,” he said.
To end the conference call, Obama emphasized what he saw as the great potential of the upcoming generation.
“I just want to remind people that you guys all have enormous challenges that you’re going to have to face, but you continue to live in the most vibrant, most dynamic, wealthiest nation on Earth,” the president said.