Obama Urges States to Keep Up Support for Public Universities

President Barack Obama urged states to keep up funding levels for public education to make tuition affordable as his administration promotes a plan to make community and technical colleges free for millions of students.

“State legislators have a responsibility to make sure that state institutions are still getting the support they need,” Obama on Friday told students and local residents at a community college in Indianapolis. “Part of the reason that the cost of higher education has gone up so rapidly is that state support for those institutions has gone down.”

The president said spending tax dollars on higher education is an investment that will help draw businesses and jobs to states with the best public education system. Since 2000, student costs at public colleges and universities have risen as state support dropped, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education report last year.

The president also responded for the first time about his decision to reverse his plan to eliminate tax-advantaged college savings accounts known as 529 plans.

“When you looked at the statistics the folks who used them most were the folks who were more on the high end,” Obama said in response to a question about the program.

The White House, though, faced immediate criticism from lawmakers of both parties in Congress when officials outlined a proposal which would have required people to pay income taxes when they withdraw money from the savings plans.

Getting Reaction

After hearing from “enough people” who use and like the program “we changed our mind,” Obama said. He said that he personally uses the program to save for college for his two daughters.

Obama used the setting of the Ivy Tech Community College campus in Indianapolis to press the central themes of his second term, which he emphasized in both his State of the Union address and his budget blueprint for the next fiscal year: preparing more Americans for the job market and closing the income gap between the wealthiest and the rest of the country.

Obama has long been enamored of community colleges, calling them the “unsung heroes of America’s education system” at a 2010 conference. The administration views the training they provide as a way to bridge the mismatch between available jobs and the skill set of the workforce.

Free Tuition

In his fiscal 2016 budget, Obama proposes to make community and technical colleges tuition free for students who are enrolled at least half time and making progress toward a degree.

Indiana’s Ivy Tech is the nation’s largest statewide community college system, with almost 200,000 students, according to the White House. It also has an extensive apprenticeship program.

Obama spent part of his remarks to highlight recent positive economic data showing the strength of the U.S. recovery. “America is poised for another good year,” he said. “We have risen from recession freer to write our own future than anyone else.”

Employers added 257,000 jobs last month, capping the biggest three-month gain in 17 years and delivering the biggest wage increase since 2008. The payroll jump was led by retailers, construction firms and health-care companies.

The unemployment rate rose to 5.7 percent from 5.6 percent as more than a million Americans streamed into the labor force seeking work.

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