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Obama’s visit brings UB national recognition as a leader in access, affordability

POTUS at podium, UB logo and College Affordability banner in background

President Barack Obama visited UB on Aug. 22 to announce reforms related to the cost of higher education.

By CHARLOTTE HSU

Published August 29, 2013

When Barack Obama came to Buffalo last week to unveil plans for making college more affordable, National Public Radio (NPR) wanted to know what made UB so special: Why would the president of the United States choose the university as the site for such an important announcement?

One answer, as NPR’s All Things Considered reported on Aug. 21, the day before Obama’s visit: "The University at Buffalo earns high marks on the administration's college scorecard for its relatively low-cost tuition and its high graduation rate.”

The radio broadcast described UB’s Finish in 4 intiative, which asks students to follow an academic roadmap for on-time graduation in exchange for a promise that UB will offer enough classes to make it possible to earn a degree in four years.

All Things Considered, which airs on 987 NPR stations across the U.S., wasn’t the only news outlet to take notice of UB.

Local, regional and national media swarmed campus to cover Obama’s address, which announced reforms including a plan to implement a rating system to help families select colleges and universities that provide the “best value.”

For several hours, news trucks topped with satellite dishes adorned UB parking lots. Reporters chatted up students and photographed the mile-long line that formed as ticket-holders waited to see the president. In the digital realm, the #POTUSBuffalo hashtag dominated Twitter feeds in Western New York.

"The fact that UB was selected to host this major Presidential address is a testament to our university’s stature, and to our reputation as a national model for addressing critical issues in higher education," said UB President Satish K. Tripathi in a welcome back message to the university community this week.

Some news stories from around the country on Obama at UB:

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

 On Bus Tour, Obama Seeks to Shame Colleges Into Easing Costs

“Colleges are not going to just be able to keep on increasing tuition year after year and passing it on to students,” Mr. Obama told an enthusiastic audience of about 7,200 students and others in the university’s auditorium. “We can’t price the middle class and everybody working to get into the middle class out of college.”

THE BUFFALO NEWS:

Looking for ways to make college affordable

UB has added faculty, expanded some class sizes and added more lab opportunities, which he said had been a “pinch-point” preventing on-time graduation.

Obama connects with UB crowd on plans for education aid

Buffalo made for a great place to announce those big plans, the president said. “I wanted to do it for a couple reasons. First, I know you’re focused on the future,” he said. “As I said, talking to the mayor, he was describing a new medical school and new opportunities for the high-tech jobs of tomorrow. So there’s great work being done at this institution.”

CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION:

 Obama Plan to Tie Student Aid to College Ratings Draws Mixed Reviews

In his speech on Thursday, Mr. Obama said it was "time to stop subsidizing schools that are not producing good results, and reward schools that deliver for American students and our future."

Getting the Word Out

In the days preceding Obama's speech, UB’s Office of University Communications worked with colleagues across campus to carry out a plan for maximizing publicity and commemorating the first visit of a sitting U.S. president to UB since 1853.

 

The results of these efforts, by the numbers:

 

60,824: People who viewed a special UB home page story on Obama’s visit

 

832: News stories worldwide on Obama’s visit to UB as of Aug. 26

 

80: News stories in Buffalo covering Obama’s visit to UB as of Aug. 26

 

188,766: Facebook users who saw content on UB’s Facebook page from Aug. 14-20

 

893: “Likes” received for a UB Facebook post showing off a ticket to Obama’s speech

 

202: Retweets of Obama-related messages from the @UBCommunity Twitter account run by the Office of the President

 

410: Retweets of Obama-related messages from the @UBNewsSource Twitter account run by University Communications

 

WIVB (Channel 4):

More on the student who introduced Obama

One student in particular was given a very important job on Thursday: introducing the president of the United States. Silvana D’Ettorre says she was stunned when the White House called her early this week and invited her to speak before the president.”

NPR’s All Things Considered:

Obama Heads Back To School To Talk College Affordability

Fishman and her colleagues identified the University at Buffalo as one of a handful of next generation universities that have found ways to keep costs down while still producing a large number of graduates. Buffalo, with 29,000 students, is part of the State University of New York.

Obama Calls for College Affordability On Bus Tour

Buffalo is part of the State University of New York and that's a system the administration thinks has done a pretty good job of keeping college costs in check. According to a scorecard that the Department of Education produces, tuition and fees at Buffalo are on the low end of comparable universities and their graduation rate is relatively high.

How UB got ready to host the president

It wasn’t until a week before the big day that UB got confirmation that Obama would be visiting on Aug. 22.

 

From that point on, UB staffers began working around the clock to ready the campus for the president.

 

The White House took charge, sending event planners and security personnel to UB to scope out possible venues over the next few days, ultimately settling on Alumni Arena’s Main Gym as the site of the president's address.

 

To support the White House’s efforts, UB’s Office of the President, Special Events, and Government and Community Relations coordinated with units across the university to make sure the event was publicized, tickets distributed, and guests to campus welcomed.

 

University Police collaborated with the Secret Service on security measures, and with Parking and Transportation to manage the surge of traffic to campus. University Communications coordinated messaging and media inquiries with the White House Press Office and posted daily updates about the historic visit on UB's website.

 

University Life and Services recruited and managed an army of student and staff volunteer ushers for 7,200 attendees, while also working to ensure a smooth move-in day for new UB students.

 

Inside Alumni Arena, audio and lighting experts from the Center for the Arts Production Group partnered with visiting technicians to set the stage for the president. UB Athletics, Special Events and University Facilities helped prepare the gym and adjacent areas, and collaborated with the White House on event-day operations.

 

A special flourish came from Three Pillars Catering, which put together boxed lunches for White House staffers and a buffet for the press corps that included a marbled, chocolate-and-vanilla cake featuring the Presidential Seal in frosting.

 

“It went off unbelievably well,” said UB Director of Special Events Bill Regan. “It was one of those situations where the event happened exactly the way it was conceived, and for such a big program this is rare, especially given the short time frame we had to work with.”