BUFFALO, N.Y. – Speaking before an audience of thousands
at Alumni Arena on Thursday, President Barack Obama announced a
plan he said would “shake up the system” and make
college more affordable for middle-class students, including those
who attend the University at Buffalo.
The president spoke about the need for all students to be able
to pay for higher education, which he called “the best ticket
to upward mobility” in American society.
“We understand that in the face of greater and greater
global competition in a knowledge-based economy, a great education
is more important than ever. A higher education is the single best
investment you can make in your future,” Obama told a packed
crowd of 7,200.
The president’s visit was a highly anticipated event. He
is the first sitting U.S. president to speak on campus since
Millard Fillmore did so in 1853, at which time Fillmore was also
the university's chancellor.
Obama chose UB to kick off a two-day swing through New York and
Pennsylvania during which he will lay out a plan for addressing the
increasing costs of higher education. After delivering his speech
in Buffalo, Obama was off to visit a high school in Syracuse. Other
stops on the tour include Binghamton University and Lackawanna
College in Scranton, Pa.
In his address to the nation from Alumni Arena, Obama said
tuition at the average four-year public university has increased by
more than 250 percent in the past three decades, while the typical
family income has risen just 16 percent, a disparity that has
forced many students and their parents to take out loans to finance
a college degree.
Many families are struggling to pay for that education, the
president noted, adding that the average student loan borrower owes
more than $26,000 after graduating.
“The bottom line is this: We’ve got a crisis in
terms of college affordability and student debt,” Obama said
during his 37-minute speech, adding, “Today I’m
proposing major new reforms that will shake up the current system,
create better incentives for colleges to do more with less and
deliver better value for students and their families.”
Some of the reforms Obama is proposing will require action from
Congress, while others can be enacted through the executive branch.
Obama’s plan includes:
- Implementing a new rating system before the 2015 academic year
that rewards colleges and universities for performance, while
challenging state legislatures to provide more funding for
universities that graduate students on time and with low debt. The
rating system would allow students and their families to select
schools that provide the “best value.”
- Tying financial aid to college performance. Under this plan,
students who receive federal aid would not receive assistance for
the next semester’s courses until they have completed their
- Promoting innovation and competition among the nation's
universities by offering students a greater range of study options,
including online courses.
- Easing the burden of student loan debt by allowing all
borrowers to cap loan payments at 10 percent of monthly income.
Obama said his administration will also begin heavily promoting
this “Pay As You Earn” plan to ensure that struggling
borrowers are aware of the options available to them.
“At a time when a higher education has never been more
important or more expensive, too many students are facing a choice
that they should never have to make: Either they say no to college
and pay the price for not getting a degree — and that’s
a price that lasts a lifetime — or you do whatever it takes
to go to college, but then you run the risk that you won’t be
able to pay it off because you’ve got so much debt. Now,
that’s a choice we shouldn’t accept,” the
The president’s message was especially pertinent
considering Thursday was move-in day for UB freshmen.
“What an amazing way to kick off the fall semester,”
said UB President Satish K. Tripathi. “I can’t think of
a better introduction to UB campus life.”
Tripathi said that in addition to hosting President Obama, the
university was also proud to welcome U.S. Secretary of Education
Arne Duncan. “At UB, we are heeding the secretary’s
call to be innovators in our classrooms, our research laboratories
and our overall student experience,” Tripathi said.
As a major public research university, UB was honored to serve
as the venue for a discussion on such an important topic, Tripathi
said, adding, “These issues matter deeply, not only to our
nation’s colleges and universities, but to all of