Biden Focuses on College Costs—Foreshadowing Obama’s State of the Union?
Vice President Joe Biden has become somewhat of a surrogate spokesman for the Obama administration’s efforts to make college accessible and affordable.
In recent weeks, Biden stopped by schools in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Nevada, arguing in his remarks at each event that a college degree is still an important component to creating a strong, innovative, and competitive American middle class.
At Gahanna Lincoln High School in Columbus, Ohio, Biden told students that the cost of attending Ohio State had nearly doubled since they were born, often forcing their parents to make difficult decisions.
And during a speech at Central Bucks West High School in Doylestown, Penn., where tuition at state universities has nearly tripled over the past dozen years, Biden told students they were the “most incredible generation this country has ever produced.” He also described a “perfect storm” of issues that threaten to swamp middle-class families trying to afford education: rising college costs, declining home and 401(k) values, and an increasingly competitive global economy that makes college degrees increasingly necessary.
The vice-president repeated a similar message in a speech this week at Galena High School in Reno, Nev., where undergraduate tuition at public colleges and universities rose 13 percent last year after the state’s higher education budget was cut by $85 million. Another 8 percent tuition hike is schedule to take effect this fall.
Biden’s recent speeches have placed a heightened focus on access to higher education, signaling that the Obama administration is taking notice of students struggling with massive amounts of debt, many of whom have been actively involved with the Occupy movement.
The White House is framing Biden’s college-affordability tour as part of a “continuing national dialogue” about the cost and value of higher education.
And Biden isn’t the only one addressing the issue—both Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama have spoken repeatedly about the cost of college in recent months, perhaps most notably when Duncan addressed the Annual Student Aid Conference in November and when both Duncan and the president met with higher education leaders to discuss rising college costs in December.
In a major speech in Kansas last month, Obama described education as a “national mission,” saying “We shouldn’t be making it harder to afford college—we should be a country where everyone has a chance to go and doesn’t rack up $100,000 worth of debt just because they went.”
The speeches could prove to be a framework for Obama’s State of the Union address, which he will deliver live on Tuesday night before a joint session of Congress. Education and the economy are expected to be key components of the speech.
Biden's remarks have utilized similar rhetoric, framing the issue as a matter of personal advancement, dignity, and support for the middle class‑but also of national competitiveness..
“This is not just about helping you,” Biden said in one speech. “This is not just about keeping a commitment to the middle class. … This is about making sure America is the strongest nation in the world. It is in our overwhelming self-interest.”
Biden has also said colleges have a responsibility to keep costs down, criticizing colleges for spending too much on buildings and salaries— administrative and executive salaries at colleges and universities have risen much more quickly than academic ones in recent years.
The Obama administration has already taken some steps to curb excessive student loan debt by introducing new plans earlier this year; more recently, officials announced a plan to help young Americans find training, internship, and job opportunities.
Alyssa Battistoni is a staff writer for Campus Progress. You can follow her on Twitter at @alybatt.
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