President Barack Obama told college students on Monday not to set their life goals any lower despite a challenging economy, and urged the college-aged population that catapulted him to victory in 2008 to support Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections.
Obama took four questions from student journalists in the conference call that touched on student loans, the economy, health care and public school affordability.
“Don’t let anybody tell you that somehow your dreams are going to be constrained going forward,” Obama said, arguing that citizens of the Great Depression rebounded to make the nation’s economy stronger than ever. “Right now we’re going through a tough time but I have no doubt that you guys are going to be successful.”
The president opened by saying that the country had “fallen behind” the rest of the world in education. One goal, which Obama introduced in the 2009 State of the Union address, is to reclaim America’s position as the country with the highest proportion of college graduates by making college more affordable, strengthening community colleges and improving graduation rates.
“It’s up to students to finish, but we can help remove some barriers, especially those who are earning degrees while working or raising families,” Obama said, adding that the post-9/11 G.I. bill and health care legislation that keeps students on their parents’ health care plans until they turn 26 are keys to college affordability.
When asked how to combat the rising costs to attend public schools, the president remarked that some institutions seem to be too concerned about building the nicest athletic facilities and food courts instead of focusing on education.
“You’re not going to a university to join a spa; you’re going there to learn so that you can have a fulfilling career,” Obama said. “And if all the amenities of a public university start jacking up the cost of tuition significantly, that’s a problem.”
The president acknowledged that many who voted for him may feel that the change he promised is not happening fast enough. Obama said that as he has battled Republicans to get his legislative programs passed “some of the excitement and enthusiasm started to drain away.”
“Change is always hard in this country. It doesn’t happen overnight. You take two steps forward, you take one step back,” he said. “This is a big, complicated democracy. It’s contentious. It’s not always fun and games.”
On that note, Obama tried to rally younger voters for the midterm elections in November that many are predicting will be rough for Democrats.
“You can’t suddenly just check in once every 10 years or so, on an exciting presidential election, and then not pay attention during big midterm elections where we’ve got a real big choice between Democrats and Republicans,” he said.
Boston U. freshman Meagan Bernatchez, who supported Obama in 2008 even though she wasn’t old enough to vote, said it was unlikely that college students would be as enthusiastic in this election.
“I think it’s really hard to rally people for something that’s less well-known,” she said.
Bernatchez said many Americans have been too quick to judge the president.
“In his campaign he ran on ‘change everything’ and there’s no way you can possibly live up to that,” she said
Liza Townsend, also a BU freshman, agreed Obama deserves more time.
“You can’t judge his progress until he’s had his full term,” she said. “He came in at kind of a hard time.”
Story Contributed by Neal J. Riley The Daily Free Press, Boston Univ. via UWIRE