Students waiting in the crowd cheered along with the U-M fight song and other fan favorites as they waited anxiously for Obama’s appearance, and as he mounted the stage, a wave of applause and shouts greeted him.
“It is good to be back in Ann Arbor,” he said, referencing the spring commencement speech he gave to U-M graduates in 2010.
Obama spent the majority of his speech discussing higher education and its importance. The right to an education, he said, is a universal right that applies to all Americans, not only a privileged few.
“In this economy,” he said, “there is no greater predictor of individual success than a good education.”
In 2010, Obama said, college graduates ended up having to pay back an average of $24,000 in loans. He called it “inexcusable” that student debt is now higher than credit card debt in this country.
To combat this, Obama said, his administration has dedicated billions of dollars to go toward federal student aid and is capping student loan payments so that nearly 1.6 million students will only have to pay 10 percent of their monthly income toward loans after graduation.
He called on Congress to stop the student interest rates from doubling in July and double the number of work-study jobs over the next five years, but acknowledged that continued subsidization of tuition alone is not the answer. Universities and colleges must also work to keep higher education affordable for students, he said.
“We are putting colleges on notice,” he said. “You can’t assume that you’ll just jack up tuition every single year. If you can’t stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down.
“We should push colleges to do better. We should hold them accountable if they don’t.”
States, also, are accountable, according to Obama. Last year, more than 40 states cut their budgets for higher education, which in turn puts a strain on colleges and universities. For the 2012 fiscal year, Wayne State lost $32 million in state funding, causing WSU to raise undergraduate tuition rates 6.9 percent.
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