My favorite part of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech last night was the following:
“Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we have made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years. But taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education. Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure they do. Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid. And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new ‘College Scorecard’ that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.”
I like this because President Obama recognizes the importance of providing people with the financial means to go to college, and yet he is sensitive to the issue of how much this would cost the taxpayers, if something is not done. I’m all for Pell Grants and student loans. When Pell Grants get cut, that impacts whether or not a number of students would be able to go to college, and so I oppose budgets (such as the sorts that certain Republicans have proposed in the past) that cut Pell Grants. And yet, many conservatives have argued—-and I believe legitimately—-that grants and loans can actually increase tuition, for many colleges and universities will raise their prices to get more access to that loan and grant money from students. President Obama realizes that colleges and universities should be doing their part to keep costs down, while also providing an excellent education. I’m reminded of something that I saw about higher education on Fox News several years ago (back when I was a conservative): Newt Gingrich was hosting the program, and he was discussing ways to bring down the cost of higher education. What I remember was that Newt argued that colleges can cut out a lot of their plush, which may look good but which has little to do with education.
I’m glad that President Obama is taking action on higher education—-assuming that his Administration actually is releasing that College Scorecard that guides people on how to “get the most bang for [their] educational buck.” Moreover, I hope that the Congress acts on President Obama’s proposal to change the Higher Education Act. Republicans love to talk about the need to reduce or restrain government spending. Well, maybe they should work with the President and find ways to restrain the cost of higher education, which ends up costing the government money!
In the Republican response, Marco Rubio said:
“I believe in federal financial aid. I couldn’t have gone to college without it. But it’s not just about spending more money on these programs; it’s also about strengthening and modernizing them…We need student aid that does not discriminate against programs that non-traditional students rely on – like online courses, or degree programs that give you credit for work experience. When I finished school, I owed over 100,000 dollars in student loans, a debt I paid off just a few months ago. Today, many graduates face massive student debt. We must give students more information on the costs and benefits of the student loans they’re taking out.”
When Rubio said that, I thought, “Hey, didn’t you hear the President, Mr. Rubio? He himself said that we shouldn’t just be spending more money on these programs!” Maybe Rubio was responding to a straw-person, or perhaps he just made that point about not just spending more money in order to set the stage for him to expound upon his ideas about higher education. In any case, it would be nice if Republicans and Democrats could work together on this issue, since they both appear to be concerned about it.
Something that attracted me to Obama in 2008 (even though I went on to vote for McCain-Palin) was his openness to conservative ideas and arguments. Nowadays, people argue that Obama is no longer like that but is more belligerently progressive, after a season of being burnt by his Republican opposition. I happen to like both Obamas: the one who is open to the other side, and the one who stands up for what he believes is right, regardless of what anyone thinks. In my opinion, there is still some of that old Obama, the one who sees validity even in what conservatives have to say.