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Obama addresses education concerns

President Barack Obama addressed students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor Jan. 27, following up on a demand for decreased higher education costs during his State of the Union address on Jan. 24.

“We…have, by far, the best network of colleges and universities in the world.  Nobody else comes close,” Obama said. “But the challenge is it’s getting tougher and tougher to afford it. Since most of you were born, tuition and fees have more than doubled. That forces students like you to take out more loans and rack up more debt.”

Obama went on to say that in 2010, college graduates who took out loans owed an average of $24,000. The fact that this has surpassed credit card debt for the first time in history is, Obama said, “inexcusable.”

This summer the interest rates on subsidized Stafford student loans are set to double from 3.4 to 6.8 percent.

To combat this, Obama announced what Arne Duncan, the U.S. secretary of education calls, “a comprehensive approach for tackling rising college costs.”

Obama is asking Congress to freeze the interest rates for a year as well as double the number of work-study jobs available, specifically the number of career-related work-study opportunities.

However, Obama emphasized that the federal government needs help in order to lower the cost of higher education.

“The Administration has a job to do. Congress has a job to do. But it’s not just enough to increase student aid, and you can imagine why,” Obama said. “We can’t just keep on subsidizing skyrocketing tuition. If tuition is going up faster than inflation, faster than even health care is going up, no matter how much we subsidize it, sooner or later, we’re going to run out of money. And that means that others have to do their part. Colleges and universities need to do their part to keep costs down as well.”

To ensure this, Obama has proposed a reform which will reward colleges based three principles: Offering relatively lower net tuition prices and/or restraining tuition growth, providing good value and a quality education that prepares graduates for the future and serving low-income students.

“Schools that show poor value or who don’t act responsibly in setting tuition will receive less federal campus-based aid,” according to Obama.

In addition, Obama is demanding greater responsibility from colleges by calling for “a new report card for colleges.” This scorecard for all degree-granting institutions will be designed to inform students and families about college costs, graduation rates and potential earnings so that they choose a college that is suited to their needs.

Obama also called on individual states to “do their part,” citing that over 40 states cut their higher education spending last year. To prevent this, Obama announced this morning that he is launching a “Race to the Top” for college affordability, offering states more federal support if they find new ways of keeping down student debt and withholding support if they don’t.

On Jan. 27 in a press call, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison addressed H.R. 3826—legislation that he has cosponsored which fulfills the President’s request for keeping Stafford interest rates from doubling this coming summer.

“If we don’t do something, interest rates will go up, and that is the exact wrong thing to do,” Ellison said.

Ellison stated that “71 percent of all Minnesota college students carry debt” and that “college affordability is a critical issue of our time.”

So what should Concordia students do if they support these reforms?

“Call your members of Congress,” Ellison said. “Let them know how important this is to you.

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