Obama discusses higher education equality
Specific proposals for strengthening higher education were absent from President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address delivered on Tuesday night, in which Obama spoke in general terms about his goal for improving access to higher education and reiterated the education-related themes of past addresses.

In last year’s State of the Union, Obama introduced a “College Scorecard” that would rate institutions based on value and potentially impact the allocation of federal funding to low-scoring schools. This year, his comments on education focused on college accessibility, universal pre-kindergarten education and creating partnerships between employers and universities. Early in Tuesday’s speech, Obama acknowledged that the past year has seen severe cuts to education. “Nobody got everything they wanted, and we can still do more to invest in this country’s future while bringing down our deficit in a balanced way,” he said. Later in the address, the president cited his record on higher education, including capping monthly student loan payments at 10 percent of a graduate’s income, creating a ranking system for colleges based on value and emphasizing hands-on education programs that link schools and employers. Public policy professor Ronald Shaiko said Dartmouth is unlikely to benefit from federal initiatives that link students and employers who could provide graduates with job training and work opportunities, as these policies target community colleges, not private institutions. The College is more likely to be affected by cuts to federal research grants and funding, as well as the federal Task Force on Sexual Violence, which was not mentioned in the address, Shaiko said. Sociology professor John Campbell said that the College has come under pressure in regard to health care and medical research, as grants have been eliminated. Shaiko also questioned the federal government’s ability to lower higher education costs, pointing to initiatives like e-books, book rentals and federal grants that have failed to significantly reduce the cost of a college education, which has risen faster than the rate of inflation. Obama should have addressed the affordability of higher education in greater detail, Shaiko said. The president spoke about improving public education through the Race to the Top program, announcing that over 15,000 schools will gain Internet access over the next two years thanks to corporate partnerships. He also requested, for the second year, that Congress pass universal pre-kindergarten education. Economics professor Charles Wheelan said that recent State of the Union addresses have tended to present a “laundry list of forgettable things,” and that Obama’s comments on higher education will have little impact. “I don’t think the White House is going to be driving the bus on this one,” Wheelan, who specializes in public policy, said. Melissa Padilla ’16, who attended a watch party hosted in Occom Commons, said she was pleased that Obama spoke about women’s rights and equal pay, adding that she found his focus on employment important for undergraduates. “There’s definitely a moment of uncertainty as to whether there will be a job for me after I graduate, so knowing that it’s one of his priorities is good,” she said. In his address, Obama declared 2014 a “year of action,” citing goals that included eliminating the income gap between men and women, ensuring health care coverage for all Americans and closing the Guantanamo Bay prison.
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