Friday, January 29, 2010

Obama promises aid to college students

Comparing the status quo to D-Day, the stock market crash on Black Tuesday and the abuses of civil rights marchers on Bloody Sunday, President Barack Obama addressed the nation in his first State of the Union speech on Wednesday.

In his speech, Obama attended to some of the most crucial issues of the time, including the economy, convergence between rival political parties, support and patience from the American people and financing higher education.

And this last one perked up the ears of students at K-State.

Obama outlined a number of reforms he would like to see effected regarding post-secondary education. He proposed cutting taxes for “eight million Americans paying for college,” forgiving student loans after 20 years of payment — 10 years if the student chooses a career in public service — and increasing the desirability of community colleges.

Larry Moeder, assistant vice president for student life and director of admissions and student financial aid, said he was happy with the policies Obama outlined in his speech.

“I was pleased with his remarks on education,” Moeder said. “I think it’s heading very much in the right direction by getting more money to students.”

Among his reasons for agreement with the president, Moeder said he concurred with Obama’s views on Pell Grants and loan repayment.

Students can receive loans in two ways: from the federal government or private banks, Moeder said. When a bank loans a student money for college, the federal government sends the bank a certain subsidy.

A bill up for renewal in Congress, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, will stop these subsidies. Obama said he supported this resolution.

“To make college more affordable,” Obama said, “this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that go to banks for student loans.”

Instead, he proposed both a $10,000 tax credit to families of students attending four years of college and raising Pell Grants.

Moeder said he would “totally support” increasing the amount of money for Pell Grants, because they help some of the “neediest” students, and students should be receiving more money.

Currently, fewer than 4,000 K-State students are receiving a Pell Grant, Moeder said. This totals to nearly $12 million coming from the federal government to assist K-Staters in their academic pursuits. If Obama has his way, Moeder said he thought the amount of money distributed via the Pell Grant would increase, and more students would be admitted into the program, helping to curb the rising costs of college.

Moeder said the cost of attending K-State is less than other institutions - a result of “a very strong effort” by the Board of Regents, students, and the administration. However, it still remains difficult for students to fund their education. He praised Obama for helping to restrict college costs and increase student financial assistance.

“Nationally, college costs are getting way out of hand,” Moeder said, “and so, I think the effort to control college costs is a good proposal as well.”

On the other side of campus, Joseph K. Unekis, Ph.D., associate professor of political science, said President Obama had “only Reagan and Kennedy in his class” of speakers.

“I look on his speech as almost elegant,” Unekis said; “nothing’s wasted.”

He said all the issues Obama mentioned - not just those about higher education - were important and applicable to students at K-State.

Like the economy. Obama said the country is slated to have 1.5 million new jobs created by the end of this year, thanks to the stimulus bill. After some hopeful case studies of small-business owners and entrepreneurs, he acknowledged that many are still unemployed, making this the biggest issue for him.

“That is why jobs must be our number-one focus in 2010,” he said, “and that’s why I’m calling for a new jobs bill tonight.”

Unekis said, since most students who graduate from K-State will be searching for employment, it is vital that more jobs are created.

One big subject that many expected the president to address was the reform on healthcare. Obama did speak about it, but very briefly towards the end of the speech. He said middle and lower-class Americans are struggling financially, and they do not need a hefty medical bill exacerbating their problems.

“I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber,” he said.

Professor Unekis said it was smart of Obama to not focus his speech on healthcare. Polls are showing that people care more about the economy and jobs than healthcare, so more attention should be paid to those issues, which Obama did.

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