Making Higher Education More Affordable

September 28, 2019 0 By Ronny Jaskolski

President Obama:
Thank you, everybody. (applause) Please, have a seat. Thank you, Dr. Biden, for that
outstanding introduction and for putting up with Joe. (laughter) I want to also thank Dr. Biden
for being one of the thousands of instructors all across
the country who make such a difference in the lives of
students each and every day. So we are very proud
of you for that. (applause) I want to thank President
Templin and the entire NOVA Community College family for
hosting us here today — you can applaud for that. (applause) On stage we’ve got a couple of
my outstanding Cabinet members: Secretary Sebelius and Secretary
Arne Duncan — please give them a big round of applause. (applause) In the audience we’ve got
Secretary Salazar of Interior; Secretary Donovan of HUD; and
Ambassador Ron Kirk, our U.S. Trade Representative — please
give them a big round of applause. (applause) To all the outstanding members
of Congress who made this day possible — and I’m going to
mainly single out the amazing Speaker of the
House, Nancy Pelosi. (applause) Today, we mark an important
milestone on the road to health insurance reform and
higher education reform. But, more broadly, this day
affirms our ability to overcome the challenges of our politics
and meet the challenges of our time. When I took office, one of the
questions we needed to answer was whether it was still
possible to make government responsive to the needs
of everyday people, middle-class Americans, the
backbone of this country; or whether the special interests
and their lobbyists would continue to hold sway, like
they’ve done so many times before. And that’s a test
we met one week ago, when health insurance reform
became the law of the land in the United States of America. (applause) And it’s a test we met later in
the week when Congress passed higher education reforms that
will have a tremendous impact on working families —
and America’s future. That’s two major victories in
one week that will improve the lives of our people for
generations to come. (applause) Now, I’ve said before and I’ve
repeated this week the health insurance reform bill I signed
won’t fix every problem in our health care system
in one fell swoop. But it does represent some of the
toughest insurance reforms in history. It represents a major step
forward towards giving Americans with insurance — and those
without — a sense of security when it comes to
their health care. It enshrines the principle
that when you get sick, you’ve got a society
there, a community, that is going to help you
get back on your feet. It represents meaningful
progress for the American people. And today, I’m signing a bill
that will make a number of improvements to
these core reforms. We’ll increase the size of tax
credits to help middle-class families and small businesses
pay for their health insurance. (applause) We’re going to offer $250 to
seniors who fall in the Medicare coverage gap known as the
doughnut hole to help them pay for prescriptions, and that’s a first
step towards closing that gap completely. (applause) We’ll make a significant new
investment in community health centers all across America that
can provide high-quality primary care to people who need it most. (applause) And we’ll strengthen efforts
to combat waste and fraud and abuse, to make sure your dollars
aren’t lining the pockets of insurance companies when they should
be making your health care better. (applause) Now, the debate on health care
reform is one that’s gone on for generations, and I’m glad — I’m
gratified that we were able to get it done last week. But what’s gotten overlooked
amid all the hoopla, all the drama of last week, is
what happened in education — when a great battle pitting
the interests of the banks and financial institutions against
the interests of students finally came to an end. (applause) You see, for almost two decades,
we’ve been trying to fix a sweetheart deal in federal law
that essentially gave billions of dollars to banks to act
as unnecessary middlemen in administering student loans. So those are billions of dollars
that could have been spent helping more of our students
attend and complete college; that could have been spent
advancing the dreams of our children; that could
have been spent easing the burden of tuition on
middle-class families. Instead, that money was spent
padding student lenders’ profits. Now, it probably won’t surprise
you to learn that the big banks and financial institutions
hired a army of lobbyists to protect the status quo. In fact, Sallie Mae, America’s
biggest student lender, spent more than $3 million
on lobbying last year alone. But I didn’t stand with the
banks and the financial industries in this fight. That’s not why I
came to Washington. And neither did any of the members
of Congress who are here today. We stood with you. We
stood with America’s students. (applause) And together, we
finally won that battle. I don’t have to tell folks here
at NOVA why this victory matters. In the 21st century, when the
success of every American hinges more than ever on the
quality of their education, and when America’s success as a
nation rests more than ever on an educated workforce
that is second to none, we can’t afford to waste billions
of dollars on giveaways to banks. We need to invest that
money in our students. We need to invest in
our community colleges. We need to invest in the
future of this country. We need to meet the goal I set
last year and graduate more of our students than any other
nation by the year 2020. And through the extraordinary
leadership of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, that’s
what the reforms I’m signing today will help us do. (applause) By cutting out the middleman,
we’ll save American taxpayers $68 billion in the coming
years — $68 billion. That’s real money — (laughter) — real savings that we’ll
reinvest to help improve the quality of higher education
and make it more affordable. Now, we’ve already taken a
number of steps through the Recovery Act and through my
budget to significantly increase the support provided to young
people attending colleges and universities all
across the country. And I just — President Templin handed
me a sheet just as I walked in. Just in case you’re wondering
whether this makes a difference, so far this year — and the year
isn’t over — right here at NOVA, Pell Grant recipients increased
by 41 percent over last year. (applause) The total dollar amount of Pell
Grants increased by 59 percent. The number of federally
guaranteed loans increased by 43 percent and loan awards
increased by 68 percent. That’s right here at this
one community college, because of the steps that
we had already taken. (applause) So using the $68 billion
that we’re saving, that had been
going to the banks, here’s what we’re
going to be able to do. First, we will reinvest a
portion of those savings to upgrade our community colleges,
which are one of the great, undervalued assets in
our education system. (applause) Community colleges like NOVA are
incredibly important because they serve a varied
group of learners, from recent high school grads
seeking a pathway to a college degree, to adults seeking
training for the jobs of tomorrow. By forging private
sector partnerships, community colleges can offer
students the education and training they need to find a
good job when they graduate — and it helps offer businesses
the assurance they need that graduates will be ready for the
jobs that they’re hired to do. And because community colleges
like NOVA are so essential to a competitive workforce, I’ve
asked your outstanding professor, Dr. Jill Biden — who
does not have enough to do — (laughter) — to host a summit on community
colleges at the White House this fall. And we’re going to bring
everybody together, from educators to students,
experts to business leaders. (applause) We are going to bring everybody
together to share innovative ideas about how we can help
students earn degrees and credentials, and to forge
private sector partnerships so we can better prepare America’s
workforce and America’s workers to succeed in the 21st century. Now, to help open the doors
of higher education to more students, we’ll also reinvest
part of that $68 billion in savings in Pell Grants,
one of the most popular forms of financial aid. Pell Grants once covered more
than three-quarters of the cost of going to college. But now, because the cost
of college has skyrocketed, the amount Pell Grants
cover is about one-third. Today, students hoping to attend
college on a Pell Grant are going to be able to
feel more secure, because not only are we
going to offer over 800,000 additional Pell awards
over the next 10 years, we’re also going to raise the
amount they’re worth to almost $6,000, so that inflation doesn’t
erode the value of your grant. (applause) And we’ll put the entire Pell
Grant program on firmer footing for years to come. Altogether, we are more than
doubling the amount of Pell Grant funding that was available
when I took office — it’s one of the most significant investments
in higher education since the G.I. Bill. (applause) Now, third, we’re going to
restore a measure of fairness to how students repay their loans. Today, two out of every three
students graduates with help from a loan, and often they take
on a mountain of debt as a result. Here in Virginia, the typical student
carries almost $20,000 in debt. Across the country, the average
student graduates with over $23,000 in debt. I know what that’s like. Michelle and I had big debts
coming out of school — debts we weren’t able to fully repay
until just a few years before I started running for office. Today, we’re making it easier
for responsible students to pay off their loans. Right now, if you’re a borrower,
you don’t have to spend more than 15 percent of
your income on loans. But starting in 2014, you won’t
have to pay more than 10 percent of your income in repaying
your student loans. (applause) That will make a meaningful difference
for over one million more students. We’re also going to give
students an incentive to do what’s right — if you
pay your loans on time, you’ll only have to pay
them off for 20 years. And you’ll only have to pay them
off for 10 years if you repay them with service to your
community, and to our country, as a teacher or a nurse or a
member of our Armed Forces. (applause) Finally, we’ll reinvest some of
the $68 billion in savings to strengthen our Historically
Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions. (applause) These are institutions that have
struggled more than most in these tough economic times. The reforms in this
bill are significant, but they’re just part of a
broader effort to strengthen our entire higher education system. We’re putting college tuition
tax credits in the pockets of millions of students from
working families to help them pay for college. We’ve taken steps to simplify
the federal college assistance form — called the FAFSA —
because it shouldn’t take a PhD to apply for financial aid. (applause) And we’re helping ensure that
America’s high school graduates are ready for college. All of this is paid for. We’re redirecting money that was
poorly spent to make sure we’re making investments
in our future. Now, this won’t solve all of our
problems in higher education. We continue to expect colleges
and universities to do their part to hold down
tuition increases. (applause) That has to happen.
We’ve got to work on that. And we also need to take greater
initiative not only to help more students enter college; we’ve
got to make sure that we see more students successfully
earn a college degree. But what we’ve done over the past
year represents enormous progress. So I’ll close by saying this. For a long time, our student
loan system has worked for banks and financial institutions. Today, we’re finally making our
student loan system work for students and our families. But we’re also doing
something more. From the moment I was
sworn into office, I’ve spoken about the urgent
need for us to lay a new foundation for our economy
and for our future. And two pillars of that
foundation are health care and education, and each has long
suffered from problems that we chose to kick down the road. With the bill I
signed last week, we finally undertook meaningful
reform of our health care system. With this bill, and other steps
we’ve pursued over the last year, we are finally undertaking
meaningful reform in our higher education system. So this week, we can rightly
say the foundation on which America’s future will be built is
stronger than it was one year ago. (applause) And so at the end of
this extraordinary week, I want to acknowledge some of
the people who made it possible. There isn’t time to single
out everyone who’s here, the outstanding
members of Congress, but I want to make sure I once
again say this would not have happened had it not been for the
leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi — (applause) — Senate Majority
Leader Harry Reid — (applause) — Senator Dick Durbin and
Congressman Steny Hoyer. All provided outstanding
leadership that our nation needed. (applause) On health care, Max Baucus,
Chris Dodd, Henry Waxman, Charlie Rangel, and so many
others offered invaluable expertise throughout the year. (applause) Congressmen George Miller,
Jim Clyburn, Dale Kildee, Ruben Hinojosa led the way in
the House on education reforms that I sign today. (applause) Senator Tom Harkin’s dedication
ensured that the Senate would include these
reforms in this bill. (applause) Virginia’s own Bobby Scott,
and an outstanding freshman, Tom Perriello helped to
make this thing possible. (applause) We are grateful to them. Courage is an essential
ingredient in any landmark legislation, particularly when
the attacks are as fierce and unrelenting — and inaccurate — (laughter) — as they have been
over the past year. I just want to commend members
of Congress who had the courage to do what’s right — (applause) — and to say a special thank
you to all of the newer members. (applause) The past couple of years have
brought one challenge after another, and you’ve risen
to the moment each time. I could not be prouder of the
work that all of you have done. And it would not have happened
had it not been for the incredible persistence and
stick-to-itiveness of all the folks in the
audience here today. Ultimately, Congress responds to
the voices that they’re hearing in their communities, and so
many of you have written letters and come to meetings and let
people know of the ordinary struggles that people are going
through each and every day. You’re what provided members of
Congress the courage that they needed to do what was right. And so on behalf of all of us
who are serving in Washington, we want to thank you,
the American people, for your outstanding leadership. (applause) And with that, I’m
going to sign this bill. Thank you very much. (applause) (The bill is signed) (applause)