President Obama Gives College Students Hope and a Challenge

obamahope President Obama ran on a message of hope that inspired many college students. In his speech before Congress and the nation last night, President Obama offered hope, inspiration and a challenge for college students and all Americans seeking higher education.

President Obama’s speech at times sounded a lot like President Kennedy’s famous “Ask not what your country can do for you” speech. He spoke of the responsibility of government to ensure that its citizens can get a higher education.

He also called on those citizens to take advantage of the opportunities provided that will allow them to get one. Saying “we are not a nation of quitters” this news is just what many college students and those planning for college needed to hear.

In his speech before Congress and the nation President Obama said:

In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity — it is a prerequisite.”

“Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma. And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. And half of the students who begin college never finish.”

“It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work. But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”

In the stimulus bill the Obama administration is putting money behind those words. By more than doubling the Department of Education’s budget the economic stimulus package will reportedly make 4 million more college students eligible for expanded tax benefits and significantly increase federal grant funding for an estimated 7 million students.

Some highlights of how the economic stimulus bill will benefit college students include:

  • A new tax credit will temporarily raise the currently available maximum education tax credit by 40 percent, from $1,800 to $2,500. The approved stimulus bill also expands eligibility for the education tax credit by opening up the benefit to students from lower-income families who don’t currently pay taxes. The new tax credit will be refundable up to 40 percent for those families who don’t owe any taxes, and all eligible families will be able to write off non-tuition expenses like textbooks.Under the current Hope Scholarship Tax Credit program, the education tax credit is nonrefundable, meaning only those families who owe taxes are able to benefit from the tax credit. The current Hope credit also covers only tuition and fees, leaving many low-income students with hefty room and board, transportation, and textbook costs that they can’t count towards the tax break.
  • An additional 130,000 college work-study students may have jobs next year thanks to the economic-stimulus bill that President Obama just signed into law which allocates approximately $200 million in new funding for Federal Work-Study Programs. The money, which colleges should receive by April 1 of this year, will not be tied to a new community service requirement as some higher education officials had expected. Work-study funds will be distributed to undergraduate and graduate students next year based upon “existing formulas and information that colleges have already submitted.” With the additional $200 billion in stimulus money, Federal Work- Study Programs could receive $1 billion in total funding this fiscal year — a level not seen since 2001.
  • The federal Pell Grant program — the widely used grant program for financially needy students — will get a $17.1 billion increase in funding. Current legislation pending before Congress could add an additional $347 million to this number.
  • In the speech President Obama also said “make sure that you can afford a higher education” in exchange for community or national service. Although he did not detail it in the speech, Obama’s proposal was for a fully refundable tax credit to cover $4,000 a year in college costs for four years, in exchange for 100 hours a year of public service. Tuesday night, he urged that legislation to create such a program be named for two lions of the Senate, Orrin Hatch and Edward M. Kennedy.

More could come when President Obama presents his budget to Congress.

During these tough economic times many college students are worried if they will be able to continue their education. Many seeking to go to college are equally worried the money will be there. The stimulus package and the speech give all who worry what they need right now. Hope.