President Obama has often included issues related to financial aid to educational institutions in his political rhetoric. Although his reference to the ailing education system is articulated with a sympathetic tone there is also ambivalence and equivocation. In the Democratic National Convention of 2012, where he formally accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination of him as the Presidential candidate, the message is again one of hope rather than concrete action. He begins the topic of education by acknowledging how his own education was made possible by government largesse and how the middle classes cannot do without student aid. He then outlined how some of his initiatives over the last four years have made an impact in middle-class Americans’ access to education.
“For the first time in a generation, nearly every state has answered our call to raise their standards for teaching and learning. Some of the worst schools in the country have made real gains in math and reading. Millions of students are paying less for college today because we finally took on a system that wasted billions of taxpayer dollars on banks and lenders.” (Obama, DNC, 2012)
He went on to state how the process of reforms is only partially complete and continued progress is imperative. He iterated the inherent injustice of a system that would discriminate entry depending on the student’s financial resources. At the same time, he said, a coordinated action between government and educationists could bring about positive change:
“Government has a role in this. But teachers must inspire; principals must lead; parents must instill a thirst for learning, and students, you’ve got to do the work….Help me recruit 100,000 math and science teachers in the next ten years, and improve early childhood education. Help give two million workers the chance to learn skills at their community college that will lead directly to a job. Help us work with colleges and universities to cut in half the growth of tuition costs over the next ten years…” (Obama, DNC, 2012)
President Obama’s position on student financial aid is directly in opposition to his challenger’s stance. The Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for example, believes that availing student loans is the best method of paying college fees. On the campaign trail across the country, President Obama has not tired of pointing to this, highlighting the right-wing ideology behind Romney’s stance. In a town square gathering at Capital University in Bexley, Ohio, he criticized Romney by quoting him:
“He said, ‘The best thing you can do is shop around’. That’s it. That’s his plan. That’s his answer to young people who are trying to figure out how to go to college and make sure that they don’t have a mountain of debt.”” (Obama, New York Times, 2012)
President Obama also mentioned how, as newlyweds, he and his wife Michelle were burdened by the loans that they took to enroll in law-college. Mr. Obama attacked Romney’s election manifesto for proposing to cut student loans and grants, keeping away from regulating and controlling escalating tuition fees, etc. Such a policy framework, he asserted, would put higher education out of reach of most students from the middle-class.
In the State of the Union address earlier this year, when his nomination for re-election was not yet sealed, Mr. Obama had fleshed-out the details of the student financial aid program. A key component of his plan is “requiring all schools that receive federal financial aid, which is nearly all of the more than 4,000 colleges and universities in this country, to justify tuition increases or risk losing federal financial aid funds.” (Huffington Post, 2012) This method translates to applying price controls. In his own words, “if you can’t stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down” (Obama, State of the Union Address, 2012)
In terms of President Obama’s performance during his current tenure in improving the education system, there are no substantive contributions. Though some changes were implemented, the education system continues to be in distress.
On trail, Obama attacks Romney on Student Aid, New York Times, 21st August, 2012, retrieved from
Obama’s financial aid reform comes with strings attached, The Kansas City Star, 10th February, 2012, retrieved from http://www.kansascity.com/2012/02/10/3422283/obamas-financial-aid-reform-comes.html#storylink=cpy on 23rd September, 2012
Huffington Post, Full text of President Barack Obama’s Democratic National Convention Speech, 6th September, 2012, retrieved from < http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/06/barack-obama-speech-text-_n_1849133.html> on 23rd September, 2012