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Cost of college a key point of SOTU

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Cost of college a key point of SOTU

Official White House photo by Pete Souza

Official White House photo by Pete Souza

Official White House photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C., Jan. 20, 2015.

By Lizzi Thom

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On January 20, 2015, President Obama addressed a Republican-controlled Congress in his sixth annual State of the Union Address. With two years remaining of his second term, the President will not be eligible for reelection in 2017. That being said, his readiness for bold, controversial actions could be linked with his soon-to-be status as a lame duck president.

In his hour-long speech, Obama addressed a variety of issues and how he intends to see their solutions through. Just a few of his plans include providing guaranteed maternity leave for every worker, improving broadband access, tightening cybersecurity, raising the federal minimum wage, and providing two free years of community college for “achieving” students.

Wait… free college?

Well, kind of. The money has to come from somewhere. The White House announced a series of tax proposals that would raise taxes on financial institutions and wealthy individuals that would raise revenue to pay for his plan. These new proposals would raise taxes on capital gains that will affect only the wealthiest one percent of Americans, impose new fees on financial institutions that borrow heavily, and exempt Pell Grants from taxation.

I want to spread the idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal… as high school is today.”

— President Obama

The proposal would hypothetically result in tuition-free classes for students attending school at least half time who maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher and are making steady progress toward a degree or transferring to a four-year institution. The federal government would cover 75 percent of the average cost of community college, with states expected to pick up the remaining quarter of the tab.

“I want to spread the idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today,” he said.

Looking forward, a college degree is replacing a high school diploma. By 2020, an estimated 35 percent of job openings will require at least a bachelor’s degree and 30 percent will require some college or an associate’s degree. Clearly, the level of education needs to rise as an entire American workforce to compete with other advanced nations.

Many people support the plan, like social studies teacher Mrs. Katie Quartuch.  “I think it should only apply to people under a certain income… and there should be a cap on the amount of the subsidy.”

Extending public education may seem unnecessary and all too ambitious. However, nearly a century ago, the movement that made public high school a reality for everyone resulted in rapid American economic growth and the most educated workforce in the world. Through the 20th century, the rest of the world followed suit. Now, the demands of a growing global economy call for more knowledge than ever before.

Student debt is higher than ever before. The average amount of student loans has increased 25 percent over four years. Something has to be done, and soon.”

Maybe right now isn’t the best time to up our game as a country. Maybe it is. All I’m saying, widespread extended education is absolutely inevitable. Obama’s plan has little to no chance of being passed, especially with a Republican controlled House and Senate. But eventually, something similar will. Once, government-funded high school saw fierce opposition. In hindsight, we can see how necessary it was. Now, in 2015, affordable college education is the same idea.

Democrat or Republican, you have to agree, the cost of college is reaching astronomical amounts. As Obama put it, too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need. Student debt is higher than ever before. The average amount of student loans has increased 25 percent over four years. Something has to be done, and soon.

But what? How is it possible to save such a broken system? Why has this issue progressed to such severe degrees so fast? One would assume politicians would have done more to address the problem years ago, before our crippled education system got this out of control.

If young adults want politicians to care about issues that affect them, they have to show up to the polls first.”

The most basic answer is that politicians don’t have to be too concerned with our demographic in order to be elected into office. According to the U.S. Census in 2012, 45 percent of 18-29 year olds voted. Now, compare that to the 72 percent of Americans aged over 65 who voted. In short, the youngest demographic has the lowest voter turnout. When making promises to the public, Congressmen are primarily concerned with what will get them elected. If young adults want politicians to care about issues that affect them, they have to show up to the polls first.

“I think that something should be done to help students with debt,” Mrs. Quartuch said. “But I feel really lost on how to make that happen other than young people voting or their parents demanding government to do something about college tuition.”

The president is facing severe backlash for his proposal. What people are failing to notice is that we finally have some sort of a plan. It’s about time someone as influential as the president has proposed a solution so publicly. Yeah, it’s bold. But now people will criticize his plan. They’ll come up with alternatives. They’ll think of other solutions.

It seems Obama has to know this won’t go through within his last two years in office. What he is doing is laying a foundation for the next Democratic president who could build on his ideals.

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