Opening the Doors of Higher Education

September 17, 2019 0 By Ronny Jaskolski

Hello everyone. My name is Stephanie Stevenson. I’m currently a junior at the
University of Maryland College Park With a concentration in
American studies and social justice. I am a first generation
college student from Baltimore, Maryland, and I truly understand the
importance of higher education. My family taught me that I
should never let my social economic status negatively
define who I am, but to embrace my strengths and strive to overcome
the challenges that may be placed in front of me. I’ve fought my way to the top, and I’ve
remained on the Dean’s List for the past two consecutive
semesters at one of the top research universities
in the country. I’m also a Ronald E. McNair scholar, and I plan to pursue a PhD in urban planning and public policy in the future. I know that the Pell Grant and many
others like McNair has helped me to accomplish my dreams and
thrive in the academic world. I will use my education to
give back to my country and impoverished urban communities
across the nation. I’m on the path to success but
only because of the support of my family, my teachers and the
financial support that was provided to me by the Federal
and Maryland State Government. I was lucky, but so many students
are discouraged from obtaining a college education because they
lack the financial, social and academic resources necessary to
succeed in an expensive and fast-paced collegiate environment. Americans have always used
education to break through the glass ceilings that have blocked
their entry into mainstream society, and I am so honored
that I am here today. And I’m honored to introduce to
you the President of the United States, Who I know who will help to
improve education for all American children,
President Barack Obama. THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. That was excellent. We might
have to run her for something some day. (Laughter.) That was terrific. Thank you, Stephanie. I want to also introduce Yvonne
Thomas, who is Stephanie’s proud mother. And we appreciate
everything that you’ve done. And Stephanie’s father,
Albert, is around here as well. There are few things as
fundamental to the American Dream or as essential for
America’s success as a good education. This has never been more
true than it is today. At a time when our children are
competing with kids in China and India, the best job
qualification you can have is a college degree or
advanced training. If you do have that kind of
education, then you’re well prepared for the future —
because half of the fastest growing jobs in America require
a Bachelor’s degree or more. And if you don’t have a college
degree, you’re more than twice as likely to be unemployed
as somebody who does. So the stakes could not be
higher for young people like Stephanie. And yet, in a paradox of
American life, at the very moment it’s never been more
important to have a quality higher education, the cost
of that kind of that kind of education has never been higher. Over the past few decades,
the cost of tuition at private colleges has more than
doubled, while costs at public institutions have
nearly tripled. Compounding the problem, tuition
has grown ten times faster than a typical family’s income,
putting new pressure on families that are already strained and
pricing far too many students out of college altogether. Yet, we have a student loan
system where we’re giving lenders billions of dollars in
wasteful subsidies that could be used to make college more
affordable for all Americans. This trend — a trend where a
quality higher education slips out of reach for ordinary
Americans — threatens the dream of opportunity that is America’s
promise to all its citizens. It threatens to widen the
gap between the haves and the have-nots. And it threatens to undercut
America’s competitiveness — because America cannot lead in
the 21st century unless we have the best educated, most
competitive workforce in the world. And that’s the kind of workforce
— and the kind of citizenry — to which we should be committed. And that’s why we have taken and
proposed a number of sweeping steps over our first few months
in office — steps that amount to the most significant efforts
to open the doors of college to middle-class Americans
since the GI Bill. Millions of working families are
now eligible for a $2,500 annual tax credit that will help them
pay the cost of tuition; a tax credit that will cover the full
cost of tuition at most of the two-year community colleges
that are some of the great and undervalued assets of
our education system. We’re also bringing much needed
reform to the Pell Grants that roughly 30 percent of students
rely on to put themselves through college. Today’s Pell Grants cover less
than half as much tuition at a four-year public institution
as they did a few decades ago. And that’s why we are adding
$500 to the grants for this academic year, and raising the
maximum Pell Grant to $5,550 next year, easing the financial
burden on students and families. And we are also changing the
way the value of a Pell Grant is determined. Today, that value is set by
Congress on an annual basis, making it vulnerable
to Washington politics. What we are doing is pegging
Pell Grants to a fixed rate above inflation so that these
grants don’t cover less and less as families’ costs go up and up. And this will help prevent a
projected shortfall in Pell Grant funding in a few years
that could rob many of our poorest students of their
dream of attending college. It will help ensure that Pell
Grants are a source of funding that students can count
on each and every year. Now, while our nation has a
responsibility to make college more affordable, colleges
and universities have a responsibility to
control spiraling costs. And that will require hard
choices about where to save and where to spend. So I challenge state, college
and university leaders to put affordability front and center
as they chart a path forward. I challenge them to follow the
example of the University of Maryland, where they’re
streamlining administrative costs, cutting energy costs,
using faculty more effectively, making it possible for them to
freeze tuition for students and for families. At the same time, we’re also
working to modernize and expand the Perkins Loan Program by
changing a system where colleges are rewarded for raising
tuition, and instead, rewarding them for making college
more affordable. Now just as we’ve opened the
doors of college to every American, we also have to ensure
that more students can walk through them. And that’s why I’ve challenged
every American to commit to at least one year of higher
education or advanced training — because by the end of the
next decade, I want to see America have the highest
proportion of college graduates in the world. We used to have that;
we no longer do. We are going to
get that lead back. And to help us achieve that
goal, we are investing $2.5 billion to identify and support
innovative initiatives that have a record of success in boosting
enrollment and graduation rates — initiatives like the IBEST
program in Washington state that combines basic and career skills
classes to ensure that students not only complete college, but
are competitive in the workforce from the moment they graduate. And to help cover the cost
of all this, we’re going to eliminate waste, reduce
inefficiency, and cut what we don’t need to pay
for what we do. And that includes reforming our
student loan system so that it better serves the people
it’s supposed to serve — our students. Right now, there are two
main kinds of federal loans. First, there are Direct Loans. These are loans where tax
dollars go directly to help students pay for tuition, not
to pad the profits of private lenders. The other kinds of loans are
Federal Family Education Loans. These loans, known as FFEL
loans, make up the majority of all college loans. Under the FFEL program, lenders
get a big government subsidy with every loan they make. And these loans are then
guaranteed with taxpayer money, which means that if a student
defaults, a lender can get back almost all of its money
from our government. And there’s only one real
difference between Direct Loans and private FFEL loans. It’s that under the FFEL
program, taxpayers are paying banks a premium to act as
middlemen — a premium that costs the American people
billions of dollars each year. Well, that’s a premium we cannot
afford — not when we could be reinvesting that same money in
our students, in our economy, and in our country. And that’s why I’ve called for
ending the FFEL program and shifting entirely
over to Direct Loans. It’s a step that even a
conservative estimate predicts will save tens of billions of
tax dollars over the next ten years. According to the Congressional
Budget Office, the money we could save by cutting out the
middleman would pay for 95 percent of our plan to
guarantee growing Pell Grants. This would help ensure that
every American, everywhere in this country, can out-compete
any worker, anywhere in the world. In the end, this is not about
growing the size of government or relying on the free market —
because it’s not a free market when we have a student loan
system that’s rigged to reward private lenders
without any risk. It’s about whether we want to
give tens of billions of tax dollars to special interests or
whether we want to make college more affordable for eight and
a half million more students. I think most of us would agree
on what the right answer is. Now, some of you have probably
seen how this proposal was greeted by the
special interests. The banks and the lenders who
have reaped a windfall from these subsidies have mobilized
an army of lobbyists to try to keep things the way they are. They are gearing up for battle. So am I. They will fight for
their special interests. I will fight for Stephanie,
and other American students and their families. And for those who care about
America’s future, this is a battle we can’t afford to lose. So I am looking forward to
having this debate in the days and weeks ahead. And I am confident that if all
of us here in Washington do what’s in the best interests
of the people we represent, and reinvest not only in opening the
doors of college but making sure students can walk through them,
then we will help deliver the change that the American
people sent us here to make. We will help Americans fulfill
their promise as individuals. And we will help America
fulfill its promise as a nation. So thank you very much. And thank you, Stephanie. And thank you, Stephanie’s mom. All right. Thanks, guys.