Friday, July 8, 2011

Twitter Town Hall Meeting: the escalating cost of Higher Education

President Obama responds to a tweet about the escalating cost of Higher Education at the Twitter Town Hall Meeting, July 7, 2011

MR. DORSEY: You mentioned education. There's a lot of questions coming about education and its impact on the economy. This one in particular is from a curator who is pulling from a student in Ohio, named Dustin: "Higher ed is necessary for a stronger economy, but for some middle-class Americans it’s becoming too expensive. What can be done?"

THE PRESIDENT: Well, here is some good news. We’ve already done something that is very significant, and people may not know. As part of a higher education package that we passed last year, what we were able to do was to take away subsidies that were going to banks for serving as middlemen in the student loan program and funnel that to help young people, through Pell Grants and lower rates on student loans. And so there are millions of students who are getting more affordable student loans and grants as a consequence of the steps that we’ve already taken. This is about tens of billions of dollars' worth of additional federal dollars that were going to banks are now going to students directly.

In addition, what we’ve said is that starting in 2013, young people who are going to college will not have to pay more than 10 percent of their income in repayment. And that obviously helps to relieve the burden on a lot students -- because, look, I’m a guy who had about $60,000 worth of debt when I graduated from law school, and Michelle had $60,000. And so we were paying a bigger amount every month than our mortgage. And we did that for eight, 10 years. So I know how burdensome this can be.

I do think that the universities still have a role in trying to keep their costs down. And I think that it’s important -- even if we've got better student loan programs, more grants, if the costs keep on going up then we'll never have enough money, you'll never get enough help to avoid taking on these huge debts. And so working with university presidents to try to figure out, where can you cut costs -- of course, it may mean that the food in the cafeteria is a little worse and the gym is not as fancy. But I think all of us have to figure out a way to make sure that higher education is accessible for everybody.

One last point -- I know, Twitter, I’m supposed to be short. (Laughter.) But city -- community colleges is a huge, under-utilized resource, where what we want to do is set up a lifelong learning system where you may have gotten your four-year degree, but five years out you decide you want to go into another field or you want to brush up on new technologies that are going to help you advance. We need to create a system where you can conveniently access community colleges that are working with businesses to train for the jobs that actually exist. That’s a huge area where I think we can make a lot of progress. (transcript from LATimes.com)

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