Obama’s focus: Education

President Barack Obama addressed some of his concerns for higher education Monday in a conference call with University student journalists.

In order to be successful as a nation, Obama said, it is important that every young person receives the best education possible. He proposed that by 2020, the United States will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world after falling from first to 12th highest in a single generation.

The president said the first priority for higher education is making college affordable.

“This is actually the only place where inflation is higher than health care inflation,” he said.

Obama has already taken several steps to improve the affordability of higher education, including changing the way federal student loans are administered and raising the value of Pell Grants, which provide financial aid to low-income students.

But Obama said there is another part to the equation—the cost of college generally.

“If I keep on increasing Pell Grants and increasing student loan programs and making it more affordable; but higher education inflation keeps on going up at the pace that it’s going up right now, then we’re going to be right back where we started,” Obama said.

Obama said one of the reasons that costs for public institutions have increased is that state governments have to make severe cutbacks in what they provide to institutions of higher learning. He discussed several ways in which he plans to combat growing tuition inflation.

“Improving the economy overall is going to be critical,” Obama said. “That will take some pressure off the states.”

He said that, with a growing economy, states will take in more tax revenue. States will then be more able to maintain levels of support for colleges and universities and won’t have to pass on increased costs to students.

Obama also called for an examination of what is driving this inflation, investigating the question: “Are we designing our universities in a way that focuses on the primary thing, which is education?”

He said at many institutions, students’ quality of life in regards to services such as athletic facilities and food courts, is much better than in the past. Obama mentioned the “notoriously bad” cafeteria food that he was served in college and emphasized what is really important.

“You’re not going to a university to join a spa,” Obama said. “You’re going there to learn so that you can have a fulfilling career. And if all the amenities of a public university start jacking up the cost of tuition significantly, that’s a problem.”

Obama said it is important for students and parents to be good consumers.

He added that they should be informed of exactly where each tuition dollar is going and should make decisions as a consequence of that.