The President: An affordable education is ‘at the heart of the American Dream’
By KRUI News Reporter Betsy Penisten
Blue skies cleared the way for President Obama’s arrival in Iowa Wednesday morning, April 25th.
President Obama aboard Air Force One touched down at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids just minutes before noon.
While the President spent a brief moment with supporters before heading into Iowa City to discuss college affordability, a sea of black and gold flooded into the University of Iowa Field House anxiously awaiting the President’s arrival.
The President’s remarks were scheduled at 1:20 p.m, but before greeting the rest of his Iowa City supporters, President Obama held a roundtable discussion with 5 University of Iowa students who have felt the difficulty of barely getting by in college; and not getting by the tough academia of college, but getting by the burden of buying books and food while on a small budget that contains minimal financial aid.
The University of Iowa is one of three college campuses the President visited this week while calling on Congress to prevent interest rates on federal student loans from doubling come July.
Five years ago Congress cut interest rates on federal student loans in half. The rate cut expires July 1st 2012 causing interest rates to double. An extra $1,000 of student debt will accrue each year the rate cut is not renewed.
The young and able crowd arose and placed their hands on their hearts as they recited the Pledge of Allegiance. They listened as a graceful singing of the National Anthem followed.
UI president Sally Mason spoke before the President took the stage. Maintaining and securing an affordable means of a college education for all Americans, she said, “goes to our very character as a culture and as a people.”
“Because I had access to an affordable college education, I’ve been able to pursue my interests, achieve professional success and contribute to society way beyond what I ever anticipated as an 18-year-old, first-year student,” Mason said.
With just minutes to go before President Obama strutted out, patriotic chants of “USA, USA, USA,” echoed off the walls of the Field House.
“Hello, Hawkeyes,” the President greeted the crowd flashing his smile. “It’s good to be back be in Iowa!”
President Obama kicked-off his appearance with a sincere statement to the kindness of midwestern hospitality: “Iowa always feels like home to me.”
“We love you, Barack!” an Iowa audience member shouted warmly welcoming the President, to which he responded, “I love you back.”
College affordability has always been at the heart a personal issue for the President. He began his discussion by remarking on his and the First Lady’s own experience with handling the burden of student loan debt following law school. He stressed how immensely the burden of student loan debt can weigh down a family.
“I’m the president of the United States — it was only about eight years ago that we finished paying off our student loans,” as the crowd of nearly 5,500 young Hawkeyes laughed and applauded. “And let me tell you, it wasn’t easy making those payments, because once we had Malia and Sasha, we’re trying to save for their college education even as we’re paying off our own college educations.”
“This is an America issue,” the President exclaimed over a crowd of attentive and enthusiastic supporters. “We’ve got to get Congress to do their part. We’ve got to keep them [interest rates] from shooting up, and shaking you down.”
The President remarked on college affordability for the middle class and ensuring financial aid is safeguarded and Pell grants are available for those who need them.
“We can’t price the middle class out of a college education,” he said referring to talks in the House among Republicans about making college more affordable by cutting financial aid for low-income students.
“Let me scratch my head here for a second,” said Obama. “Think about that. We’re going to help some students by messing with other students. That’s not a good answer.”
Discussion in the House, the same members who consistently caused a hike in the deficit for the last decade, hints on middle class college students paying more to contribute to the decrease of the deficit.
“They voted to let millionaires and billionaires keep paying lower tax rates than middle-class workers,” Obama said. “They voted to give folks like me, the wealthiest Americans, an average tax cut of at least $150,000.”
Cutting education and job training programs that give students and workers the essentials to succeed would finance the average tax cut.
The President spoke strongly of awarding financial aid to those institutions keeping tuition affordable. Colleges and universities set on skyrocketing tuition will receive less funding.
“We’ve got to make college more affordable for young people,” the President stated as the crowed roared in agreement.
An affordable education is of great value to the economy, Obama said in response to a blast by Republicans who claim that the Obama administration is using student loans as a device to distract voters from the economy.
“This is the economy. This is about your job security. This is about your future. If you do well, the economy does well. This is about the economy,” the President said as the crowd praised those words with applause.
Accessible and affordable education for all Americans, said Obama, is the key to a prosperous economy.
“What I want all of you to know is that the degree you earn from Iowa will be the best tool you have to achieve that basic American promise — the idea that if you work hard, if you give it your all, if you’re responsible, then you can do well enough to raise a family and own a home, send your own kids to college, put a little away for retirement,” Obama said. “It’s the idea that each generation is going to have a little more opportunity than the last. That’s at the heart of the American Dream.”