I thought you might enjoy President Obama’s comments today to the nation’s governors.
Most of his lengthy speech focused on education. This is an excerpt of the speech:
Today, the unemployment rate for Americans with at least a college degree is about half the national average. Their incomes are about twice as high as those who only have a high school diploma. So this is what we should be focused on as a nation. This is what we should be talking about and debating. The countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow. That’s a simple fact. And if we want America to continue to be number one and stay number one, we’ve got some work to do.
Now, there are two areas in education that demand our immediate focus. First, we’ve just got to get more teachers into our classrooms. Over the past four years, school districts across America have lost over 250,000 educators — 250,000 teachers, educators have been lost. Think about that. A quarter-million educators, responsible for millions of our students, all laid off when America has never needed them more.
Other countries are doubling down on education and their investment in teachers — and we should, too. And each of us is here only because at some point in our lives a teacher changed our life trajectory. The impact is often much bigger than even we realize. One study found that a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000. One teacher, one classroom.
The second area where we have to bring greater focus is higher education. The jobs of the future are increasingly going to those with more than a high school degree. And I have to make a point here. When I speak about higher education we’re not just talking about a four-year degree. We’re talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job that now is requiring somebody walking through the door, handling a million-dollar piece of equipment. And they can’t go in there unless they’ve got some basic training beyond what they received in high school.
We all want Americans getting those jobs of the future. So we’re going to have to make sure that they’re getting the education that they need. It starts, by the way, with just what kinds of expectation and ground rules we’re setting for kids in high school. Right now, 21 states require students to stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18 — 21 states. That means 29 don’t. I believe that’s the right thing to do, for us to make sure to send a message to our young people — you graduate from high school, at a minimum. And I urge others to follow suit of those 21 states.
Now, for students that are ready for college, we’ve got to make sure that college is affordable.
So this is a major problem that must be fixed. I addressed it at the State of the Union. We have a role to play here. My grandfather got a chance to go to college because Americans and Congress decided that every returning veteran from World War II should be able to afford it. My mother was able to raise two kids by herself while still going to college and getting an advanced degree because she was able to get grants and work-study while she was in school. Michelle and I are only here today because of scholarships and student loans that gave us a good shot at a great education. And it wasn’t easy to pay off these loans, but it sure wasn’t as hard as it is for a lot of kids today.
But it’s not enough to just focus on student aid. We can’t just keep on, at the federal level, subsidizing skyrocketing tuition. That means colleges and universities are going to have to help to make their tuition more affordable. And I’ve put them on notice — if they are not taking some concrete steps to prevent tuition from going up, then federal funding from taxpayers is going to go down. We’ve got to incentivize better practices in terms of keeping costs under control.And all of you have a role to play by making higher education a higher priority in your budgets.
But more than 40 states have cut funding for higher education over the past year. And this is just the peak of what has been a long-term trend in reduced state support for higher education. And state budget cuts have been among the largest factor in tuition hikes at public colleges over the past decade.
So let me wrap up by saying a few weeks ago I held, right here in this room and in the adjoining room, one of my favorite events and that is the White House Science Fair. We invited students from a lot of your states and they showcased projects that covered the full range of scientific discovery.
We had a group of kids from Texas, young Latino women, who came from the poorest section of Texas and yet were winning rocket competitions. And they were so good because they could only afford one rocket, so they couldn’t test them and they had to get it just right. And their parents ran bake sales just so they could travel to these events.
You had a young woman who was from Long Island, had been studying mussels and wanted to be an oceanographer, and won the Intel Science Award while she was homeless. There was a kid — the kid who actually got the most attention was a young man named Joey Hudy of Arizona. That’s because Joey let me fire off a extreme marshmallow cannon. We did it right here in this room. We shot it from here. We pumped it up — it almost hit that light. I thought it was a lot of fun. And while the cannon was impressive, Joey left a bigger impression because he had already printed out his own business cards — he was 14-years-old. And he was handing them out to everybody, including me. He’s on our short list for a Cabinet post.
Under his name on each card was a simple motto: “Don’t be bored, do something.”
Don’t be bored, do something. Don’t be bored, make something.
All across this country there are kids like Joey who are dreaming big, and are doing things and making things. And we want them to reach those heights. They’re willing to work hard. They are willing to dig deep to achieve. And we’ve got a responsibility to give them a fair shot. If we do, then I’m absolutely convinced that our future is going to be as bright as all of us want.
So this is going to be something that I want to collaborate with all of you on. If you’ve got ideas about how we can make our education system work better, I want to hear them today, and Arne Duncan is going to want to hear them for the rest of the time that he’s Education Secretary and the rest of the time I’m President.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog