Education: The Economic Issue of Our Time
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Education: The Economic Issue of Our Time

The President:
Hello, Austin! (applause) Hello, Longhorns! (applause) It is good to be back. It is good to be back. Audience Member:
I love you Obama! The President:
I love you back. (applause) I love Austin. Love Austin. I remember — by the way,
anybody who’s got a seat, feel free to take a seat. (laughter) I remember paying
you a visit during the campaign. (applause) Mack Brown gave me a
tour of the stadium, along with Colt and a couple other guys. And I got a photo
with the Heisman. (laughter) I rubbed the locker
room’s Longhorns for good luck. (applause) And I’m just saying,
it might have had something to do with how the
election turned out. (applause) There might be a connection there. I also remember the first time
that I came to Austin on the campaign. And there are a number of
friends who are here who have been great supporters; I
want to make mention of them. Representative Lloyd Doggett
is here, a great friend. (applause) Senator Kirk Watson is here. (applause) Congressman Sheila Jackson Lee is here. (applause) Mayor Leffingwell is here. (applause) And your own president, Bill Powers, is in the house. (applause) But this is back in
2007, February 2007. It was just two weeks after I
had announced my candidacy. I know it’s hard to believe, but
it’s true — my hair was not gray back then. (laughter) Not many people thought I had much of a shot at the White House. (applause) Let me put it
this way, a lot of folks in Washington didn’t think I had
a shot at the White House. (laughter) A lot of people
couldn’t pronounce my name. (laughter) They were still calling me Alabama or Yo’ Mama —
that was – (laughter) So then I come to Austin, this
was back in February of 2007. And it was a drizzly day, and
that usually tamps down turnout. But when I got to the rally over
at Auditorium Shores there was a crowd of over 20,000
people — 20,000 people. (applause) It was people of all ages and all races and all walks of life. And I said that day, all these
people, they hadn’t gathered just for me. You were there because you were
hungry to see some fundamental change in America – (applause) — because you believed in an
America where all of us — not just some of us, but all of us
— no matter what we look like, no matter where we come from,
all of us can reach for our dreams. All of us can make of our lives
what we will; that we can determine our own destiny. And that’s what we’ve been
fighting for over the past 18 months. I said then that we’d end the
Iraq war as swiftly and as responsibly as possible — and
that is a promise that we are keeping. This month we will end
combat operations in Iraq. (applause) I said we’d make health
insurance more affordable and give you more control over your
health care — and that’s a promise we’re keeping. And by the way, young people
are going to be able to stay on their parents’ health insurance
until they’re 26 because of the law that we passed. (applause) I said we’d build an economy
that can compete in the 21st century — because the economy
that we had even before the recession, even before the
financial crisis, wasn’t working for too many Americans. Too many Americans had seen
their wages flat-line, their incomes flat-line. We were falling behind and unable to compete internationally. And I said we need an economy
that puts Americans back to work, an economy that’s built
around three simple words — Made in America. (applause) Because we are not
playing for second place. We are the United States of
America, and like the Texas Longhorns, you play for
first — we play for first. (applause) Now, when it comes to the
economy, I said that in today’s world we’re being
pushed as never before. From Beijing to Bangalore,
from Seoul to San Paolo, new industries and innovations
are flourishing. Our competition is growing fiercer. And while our ultimate success
has and always will depend on the incredible industriousness
of the American worker and the ingenuity of American businesses
and the power of our free market system, we also know that as
a nation, we’ve got to pull together and do some fundamental
shifts in how we’ve been operating to make sure
America remains number one. So that’s why I’ve set some ambitious goals for this country. I’ve called for doubling our
exports within the next five years, so that we’re not just
buying from other countries, I want us to sell to
other countries. (applause) We’ve talked about
doubling our nation’s capacity to generate renewable energy
by 2012, because I’m actually convinced that if we control the
clean energy future, then our economic future will be bright
— building solar panels and wind turbines and
biodiesel and — (applause) And I want us to produce 8
million more college graduates by 2020, because — (applause) — because America has to have the highest share of graduates
compared to every other nation. But, Texas, I want you to
know we have been slipping. In a single generation, we’ve
fallen from first place to 12th place in college graduation
rates for young adults. Think about that. In one generation we went
from number one to number 12. Now, that’s unacceptable,
but it’s not irreversible. We can retake the lead. If we’re serious about making
sure America’s workers — and America itself — succeeds in
the 21st century, the single most important step we can take
is make — is to make sure that every one of our young people —
here in Austin, here in Texas, here in the United States
of America — has the best education that the
world has to offer. That’s the number
one thing we can do. (applause) Now, when I talk about
education, people say, well, you know what, right now we’re
going through this tough time. We’ve emerged from the worst
recession since the Great Depression. So, Mr. President, you should
only focus on jobs, on economic issues. And what I’ve tried to explain
to people — I said this at the National Urban League the other
week — education is an economic issue. Education is the economic
issue of our time. (applause) It’s an economic issue when the
unemployment rate for folks who’ve never gone to college is
almost double what it is for those who have gone to college. Education is an economic issue
when nearly eight in 10 new jobs will require workforce training
or a higher education by the end of this decade. Education is an economic issue
when we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that countries that
out-educate us today, they will out-compete us tomorrow. The single most important thing
we can do is to make sure we’ve got a world-class education
system for everybody. That is a prerequisite
for prosperity. It is an obligation that we
have for the next generation. (applause) And here is the
interesting thing, Austin. The fact is we know what to do
to offer our children the best education possible. We know what works. It’s just we’re not doing it. And so what I’ve said
is, let’s get busy. Let’s get started. (applause) We can’t wait another generation. We can’t afford to let our
young people waste their most formative years. That’s why we need to set up an
early learning fund to challenge our states and make sure our
young people, our children, are entering kindergarten
ready for success. (applause) That’s something we’ve got to do. (applause) We can’t accept anything but the
best in America’s classrooms. And that’s why we’ve launched an
initiative called Race to the Top, where we are challenging
states to strengthen their commitment to excellence, and
hire outstanding teachers and train wonderful principals, and
create superior schools with higher standards and
better assessments. And we’re already seeing
powerful results across the country. But we also know that in the
coming decades, a high school diploma is not
going to be enough. Folks need a college degree. They need workforce training. They need a higher education. And so today I want to talk
about the higher education strategy that we’re pursuing not
only to lead the world once more in college graduation rates, but
to make sure our graduates are ready for a career; ready to
meet the challenges of a 21st century economy. Now, part one of our strategy is
to make college more affordable. I suspect that that’s something
you’re all interested in. (applause) I don’t have to tell
you why this is so important. Many of you are living each day
with worries about how you’re going to pay off
your student loans. (applause) And we all know why. Even as family incomes have been
essentially flat over the past 30 years, college costs have
grown higher and higher and higher and higher. They have gone up faster than
housing, gone up faster than transportation. They’ve even gone up faster than
health care costs, and that’s saying something. (laughter) So it’s no wonder that the
amount student borrowers owe has risen almost 25 percent just
over the last five years. Think about that. Just in the last five years, the
debt of students has done up 25 percent. And this isn’t some
abstract policy for me. I understand this personally,
because Michelle and I, we had big loans to pay off
when we graduated. I remember what that felt like,
especially early in your career where you don’t make much money
and you’re sending all those checks to all those companies. And that’s why I’m absolutely
committed to making sure that here in America, nobody is
denied a college education, nobody is denied a chance to
pursue their dreams, nobody is denied a chance to make the most
of their lives just because they can’t afford it. (applause) We are a better
country than that, and we need to act like we’re a
better country than that. (applause) Now, there are a couple
of components to this. Part of the responsibility for
controlling these costs falls on our colleges and universities. Some of them are stepping up. Public institutions like
the University of Maryland, University of North Carolina,
some private institutions like Cornell, they’re all finding
ways to combat rising tuition without compromising on quality. And I know that your president
is looking at some of these same approaches to make sure that
the actual costs of college are going down. I want to challenge every
university and college president to get a handle on
spiraling costs. So university administrators
need to do more to make college more affordable. But we, as a nation,
have to do more, as well. So that’s why we fought so hard
to win a battle that had been going on in Washington for
years, and it had to do with the federal student loan program. See, under the old system,
we’d pay banks and financial companies billions of dollars in
subsidies to act as middlemen. See, these loans were guaranteed
by the federal government. But we’d still pass them through
banks, and they’d take out billions of dollars in profits. So it was a good deal for them,
but it wasn’t a very good deal for you. And because these special
interests were so powerful, this boondoggle survived year after
year, Congress after Congress. This year, we said,
enough is enough. (applause) We said we could not
afford to continue subsidizing special interests to the tunes
of billions of dollars a year at the expense of taxpayers
and of students. So we went to battle against the
lobbyists and a minority party that was united in their support
of this outrageous status quo. And, Texas, I am here
to report that we won. (applause) We won. (applause) So as a result, instead of
handing over $60 billion in subsidies to big banks and
financial institutions over the next decade, we’re redirecting
that money to you, to make college more affordable for
nearly 8 million students and families across this country. Eight million students will get
more help from financial aid because of these changes. (applause) We’re tripling how much we’re
investing in the largest college tax credit for our
middle-class families. And thanks to Austin’s own Lloyd
Doggett – (applause) — that tax credit is now worth $2,500 a year for two years of college. And we want to make it permanent
so it’s worth $10,000 over four years of college — $10,000. (applause) And because the value of Pell
grants has fallen as the cost of college keeps going up, the cap
on how much Pell grants are worth, we have decided to offer
more support for the future so the value of Pell grants don’t
erode with inflation, they keep up with inflation. And we’re also making loan
repayments more manageable for over 1 million more students in
the coming years, so students at UT-Austin, and across this
country, don’t graduate with massive loan
payments each month. All right, that’s — we’re
working on that right now. (applause) Now, I should
mention, by the way, we’re also making information more widely
available about college costs and completion rates so you
can make good decisions. You can comparison-shop. And we’re simplifying financial
aid forms by eliminating dozens of unnecessary questions. You should not have to take —
you should not have to have a PhD to apply for financial aid. (applause) You shouldn’t have to do it. (applause) I want a bunch of you
to get PhDs, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t want you to have
to do it for your financial aid form. (laughter) So if you’re married, for
example, you don’t need to answer questions anymore about
how much money your parents have made. If you’ve lived in the same
place for at least five years, you don’t need to answer
questions about your place of residency. Soon, you’ll no longer need
to submit information you’ve already provided on your taxes. And that’s part of the reason
why we’ve seen a 20 percent jump in financial aid applications,
because we’re going to make it easier and make the
system more accessible. (applause) So college affordability is the
first part of the strategy that we’re pursuing. The second part is making sure
that the education being offered to our college students —
especially, by the way, our students at community colleges — (applause) — that it’s preparing them to graduate ready for a career. See, institutions like the UT
are essential to our future, but community colleges are, too. (applause) They are great,
under-appreciated assets that we have to value and
we have to support. (applause) So that’s why we’re upgrading
our community colleges, by tying the skills taught in our
classrooms to the needs of local businesses in the growth
sectors of our economy. And we’re giving companies an
assurance that the workers they hire will be up to the job. We’re giving students the
best chance to succeed. We’re also that way giving
America the best chance to thrive and to prosper. And that’s why we’re also
reinvesting in our HBCUs and Hispanic Serving Institutions
— (applause) — like Huston-Tillotson
and St. Edwards. (applause) The third part of our strategy
is making sure every student completes their
course of studies. I want everybody to
think about this. Over a third of America’s
college students and over half of our minority students don’t
earn a degree, even after six years. So we don’t just need to open
the doors of college to more Americans; we need to make sure
they stick with it through graduation. That is critical. (applause) And that means looking for some
of the best models out there. There are community colleges
like Tennessee’s Cleveland State that are redesigning remedial
math courses and boosting not only student achievement
but also graduation rates. And we ought to make a
significant investment to help other states pick up on
some of these models. So we’ve got to lift
graduation rates. We’ve got to prepare our
graduates to succeed in this economy. We’ve got to make
college more affordable. That’s how we’ll put a higher
education within reach for anybody who is willing
to work for it. That’s how we’ll reach our goal
of once again leading the world in college graduation rates
by the end of this decade. That’s how we’ll lead the global
economy in this century, just like we did in the last century. (applause) When I look out at all the young
people here today, I think about the fact that you are entering
into the workforce at a difficult time in this
country’s history. The economy took a body blow
from this financial crisis and this great recession
that we’re going through. But I want everybody here to
remember, at each and every juncture throughout our history
we’ve always recognized that essential truth that the way to
move forward, in our own lives and as a nation, is to
put education first. It’s what led Thomas Jefferson
to leave as his legacy not just the Declaration of Independence
but a university in Virginia. (applause) It’s what led a nation that was
being torn apart by civil war to set aside acreage, as a
consequence of President Lincoln’s vision, for the
land-grant institutions to prepare farmers and factory
workers to seize the promise of an Industrial Age. It’s what led our parents and
grandparents to put a generation of returning GIs through
college, and open the doors of our schools and universities
to people of all races, which broadened opportunity, and grew
our middle class, and produced a half a century of prosperity. (applause) And that recognition — that
here, in this great country of ours, education and opportunity,
they always go hand in hand — that’s what led the first
president of the University of Texas to say, as he dedicated
the cornerstone of the original Main Building: “Smite the rocks
with the rod of knowledge, and fountains of unstinted
wealth will gush forth.” That’s the promise at
the heart of UT-Austin. But that is also the promise at
the heart of our colleges and of our universities, and it is the
promise at the heart of our country — the promise of a
better life; the promise that our children will climb
higher than we did. That promise is why so many of
you are seeking a college degree in the first place. That’s why your families
scrimped and saved to pay for your education. And I know that as we make our
way through this economic storm, some of you may be worried about
what your college degree will be worth when you graduate, and how
you’re going to fare in this economy, and what
the future holds. But I want you to know, when I
look out at you — when I look into the faces of America’s
young men and women — I see America’s future, and it
reaffirms my sense of hope. It reaffirms my
sense of possibility. It reaffirms my belief that we
will emerge from this storm and we will find brighter days
ahead, because I am absolutely confident that if you keep
pouring yourselves into your own education, and if we as a nation
offer our children the best education possible, from cradle
through career, not only will America — workers compete and
succeed, America will compete and succeed. (applause) And we will complete this
improbable journey that so many of you took up over
three years ago. And we’re going to build an
America where each of us, no matter what we look like or
where we come from, can reach for our dreams and make
of our lives what we will. (applause) Thank you, Austin. Thank you, Texas. God bless you. And God bless the United
States of America. (applause) Thank you. Good luck to the T.

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