In his fourth State of the Union address Wednesday night, President Barack Obama emphasized his top priority remains on improving the middle class.
Obama said the economy has turned around since he took office and has begun creating jobs again. But, he said given the high unemployment rate and stagnant wages in the country, his work is not yet over.
“It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth — a rising, thriving middle class,” Obama said.
Obama said his administration has worked to reduce college costs by expanding grants, loans and tax credits, and he added it is now colleges’ turn to do so as well.
Obama called for Congress to make “affordability and value” part of what the federal government looks for when it gives federal aid to colleges. Tomorrow, he said, his administration will put out a scorecard for colleges so students can evaluate which ones would give the “most bang for your educational buck.”
“Taxpayers can’t keep on subsidizing higher and higher and higher costs for higher education,” Obama said. “Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure that they do.”
While he said reducing the deficit is crucial, Obama said revenues must be part of this effort. He also called for combating climate change, comprehensive immigration reform and raising the minimum wage to $9 per hour.
Additionally, Obama talked about reducing gun violence in the country by requiring background checks and getting “weapons of war … off our streets.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., gave the Republican response to the speech, in which he said Obama’s mission was to grow government further.
“President Obama … believes [government] is the cause of our problems, that the economic downturn happened because our government didn’t tax enough, spend enough or control enough,” Rubio said.
Rubio, who said he recently finished paying off his student loans, also talked about the need for students to know what they are financially getting into when they start college.
He said the fix in higher education is not “just about spending more money,” but also about adapting to modern times.
College students are no longer just 18-year-olds; they are now also veterans, single parents and people who have lost their jobs, Rubio said. Because of this, he added, federal aid can no longer “discriminate” against non-traditional students.
“The 21st century workforce should not be forced to accept 20th century education solutions,” Rubio said.
According to Michael Wagner, a University of Wisconsin journalism professor, the State of the Union speech is not one in which presidents convince people of their ideas, but rather one in which they lay out their policy agenda.
If the presidents’ positions line up with public opinion, Wagner said the issues become more “salient” to the public.
“When the president mentions something in the State of the Union, the likelihood is that attention helps him be successful when the public’s already on his side,” Wagner said. “Making an issue salient when the people already agree with you can help convince the public to act.”
Since poll numbers suggest the public lines up with some of Obama’s positions on immigration and gun violence, Wagner said people might be more motivated to push for those positions.
University of Wisconsin College Republicans Chair Jeff Snow said the speech showed a “same old Obama” who does not understand how to create jobs.
“Unfortunately under Obama, more students are going back to their parents’ house and not finding jobs in their career fields,” Snow said.
Snow said Obama has also been unsuccessful in stopping tuition increases across the country and called it “doubtful” he would be successful in doing so this term.
Peter Anich, chair of the Young Progressives, a branch of Obama’s Organizing for Action, praised Obama’s proposals to bring down college costs.
“It was a well thought-out step to tie different funding to the affordability and cost effectiveness of universities,” Anich said. “I think it will provide incentives for universities to bring the costs down.”