President Addresses Higher Education and the Economy

By guest blogger Thomas J. Hoffman, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science St. Mary's professor Thomas J. Hoffman, Ph.D., was one of the many people to witness first-hand President Obama's address on education at the University of Texas at Austin. This is his account of the event. All photos are courtesy of Dr. Hoffman. On Monday, August 9, 2010, I was privileged to be one of several faculty and students from St. Mary's University to be invited guests at President Obama's address at Gregory Gym at the University of Texas in Austin. Students Vanessa Mendoza, David Zapata, and faculty member Arturo Vega, Ph.D., were all in attendance. There was a section reserved for and full of the U.T. Longhorn football team. Coach Brown and his players were all in attendance to hear the President speak to us about education. After standing in line in the hot August Texas sun for about an hour and a half, discussing the state of the world with several grassroots Austin precinct workers, I finally got into the cool of the gym. There was a line behind me that snaked through the campus. Many, many folks want the opportunity to see the President of the United States. VIPs, students, faculty, and ordinary folks were all there to hear what the President had to say regarding education policy. The air was full of excitement. In some ways, the atmosphere was that of a campaign-nay, a pep rally. President Obama discussed how higher education in the U.S. compares to other nations. He said "In a single generation, we've fallen from first place to 12th place in college graduation rates for young adults." He emphasized that education is an economic issue. Not only that, he said: "Education is the economic issue of our time." To insure prosperity, we need to "make sure we've got a world-class education system for everybody." The audience enthusiastically applauded his emphasis on making clear that he was not only talking about primary and secondary education, but he was talking about how essential college education was for us to be a prosperous society. He proposed a three part strategy for higher education. First is "to make college more affordable." Second is to make sure "that the education being offered to our college students ... is preparing them to graduate ready for a career." The third part is to make sure that "every student completes their course of studies." We don't need to just get students into college; we need to make sure they graduate from college. The President summed up his goals for education in this way: "So we've got to lift graduation rates. We've got to prepare our graduates to succeed in this economy. We've got to make college more affordable. That's how we'll put a higher education within reach for anybody who is willing to work for it. That's how we'll reach our goal of once again leading the world in college graduation rates by the end of this decade. That's how we'll lead the global economy in this century, just like we did in the last century." At the end of the address, the President was leaving the gym, and then clearly changed his mind about leaving. He pivoted like the basketball player he is, came back and delighted scores of students crowded around the stage by going around to them, exchanging brief remarks and shaking as many hands as possible before leaving.

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