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Posted on Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 10:41 p.m.

President Obama: 'Higher education can't be a luxury - it is an economic imperative'

By Ryan J. Stanton

Barack Obama offered a sneak preview tonight of what many are expecting will be a major topic of discussion when he visits Ann Arbor on Friday: college affordability.

"Higher education can't be a luxury — it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford," the president said in his State of the Union address.

At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt, Obama said Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July.

"Extend the tuition tax credit we started that saves millions of middle-class families thousands of dollars," he told lawmakers. "And give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years."


Barack Obama at the University of Michigan commencement in 2010.

Lon Horwedel |

Speaking on the verge of his re-election campaign, Obama said it's not enough to just increase student aid. He said states also need to do their part by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets, and colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep tuition costs down.

"Let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can't stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down," he said.

Obama appealed to Michigan — a sure battleground state in 2012 if he goes up against Michigan native Mitt Romney — when he proudly proclaimed "the American auto industry is back" and said "what's happening in Detroit can happen in other industries."

He recalled the steps he took when the auto industry was on the verge of collapse and some argued the federal government should let it die.

"With a million jobs at stake, I refused to let that happen," Obama said, adding the federal government helped the industry to retool and restructure.

"Today, General Motors is back on top as the world's No. 1 automaker," he said. "Chrysler has grown faster in the U.S. than any major car company. Ford is investing billions in U.S. plants and factories. And together, the entire industry added nearly 160,000 jobs."

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, spoke with by phone from Washington following Obama's speech.


John Dingell

"It was, I thought, a superb speech in which he laid out a real solid plan for America which is going to last," Dingell said. "He talked about restoring manufacturing and increasing exports and making jobs and educating our people and seeing to it that opportunities exist."

Dingell said he had to agree the cost of a college education is "terrifyingly expensive" these days, so he appreciated the president's remarks on that.

Obama said the country has a huge opportunity to bring manufacturing back, and it should start with reforming the tax code. He said it's time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs in America.

Nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made energy, Obama said later in his speech, saying the country needs a strategy that develops every available source of American energy — a strategy he called "cleaner, cheaper and full of new jobs."

"We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one hundred years, and my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy," he said. "Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade."

Obama acknowledged the partisan divide in Congress may be too deep to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change.

"But there's no reason why Congress shouldn't at least set a clean energy standard that creates a market for innovation," he said. "So far, you haven't acted."

Obama pledged to help manufacturers eliminate energy waste in their factories and give businesses incentives to upgrade their buildings.

"Their energy bills will be $100 billion lower over the next decade, and America will have less pollution, more manufacturing, more jobs for construction workers who need them," he told lawmakers. "Send me a bill that creates these jobs."

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., issued a statement after Obama's address in which she said members of Congress must rise above election-year politics for the good of the country and come together to revitalize the economy.

She said she was especially pleased that the president embraced the idea of a trade enforcement unit to help crack down on countries that continue to violate trade laws to gain an "anti-competitive advantage" over American businesses and workers.

"I wrote the bill to create a trade enforcement unit years ago and I hope this gives the idea the momentum to become a reality this year," she said.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., issued a statement saying Obama's focus on American manufacturing is already paying off in Michigan where manufacturing is on the rebound. He also said he welcomed the president's emphasis on economic fairness.

"We need to end an era in which middle-class families shoulder the cost of tax loopholes that favor the most powerful and privileged among us," he said.

Dingell expressed doubt Obama's agenda will gain much traction given the partisan divide in Congress and the fact that lawmakers are pre-occupied with re-election campaigns.

"I would hope all of it (would win bipartisan support) but you and I know better," Dingell said. "Getting things done around here in this kind of year is enormously hard."

Obama said Washington's most immediate priority should be stopping a tax hike on 160 million working Americans while the economy is still fragile. He also called for tax reforms, saying "Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires."

"Now, you can call this class warfare all you want," he said. "But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense."

He also touched on immigration, arguing hundreds of thousands of talented, hardworking students in the country face a challenge: They aren't yet American citizens.

"Many were brought here as small children, are American through and through, yet they live every day with the threat of deportation," he said. "Others came more recently, to study business and science and engineering, but as soon as they get their degree, we send them home to invent new products and create new jobs somewhere else."

He said Congress should be working on immigration reform. But if election-year politics keep Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, he said, "let's at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, and defend this country. Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship."

Obama touted his record on creating jobs, saying that in the six months before he took office, the nation lost nearly 4 million jobs.

"And we lost another 4 million before our policies were in full effect," he acknowledged. "Those are the facts. But so are these: In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than 3 million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005. American manufacturers are hiring again, creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 4:07 p.m.

What we need is not so much Higher education as better education; a great deal of what we need at work and in our own lives comes from things that should have been taught in Grade School and High School.   That many employers insist on a degree just to earn an interview tells us they don't trust  Americans to know enough to (so to speak) come in out of the rain. The rising cost of getting that degree is unconscionable, and I blame it on the monopoly colleges and universities have on the product.    One might learn as much over the Internet from a school in Mumbai, excerpt no employer here would accept their certifications.  Call us the Credentialed States of America..


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 5:48 p.m.

I believe that in 1970, 75% of college costs in MI were borne by our tax dollars. In 2012, it is 25%. Perhaps the high cost of college is the result? We are not supporting our own state's future by under-funding education. Just sayin. We are slipping behind in the world. Let's turn out more engineers and fewer lawyers and investment bankers. Maybe actually build something for a change. Of course, I'm biased, being a Mechanical Engineer.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 5:03 p.m.

President Obama came to commencement and recieved an honorary degree from President Coleman. Coleman wrote to Obama and said we need more federal aid. Obama is now going to say to the State taxpayers of Michigan, the federal government doesn't have any more money but I think the State should invest more. Now it is time for the State to tell Coleman to control her budget! The problem is that the state consitution give Coleman and the Regents &quot;autonomy&quot; so no one else can tell them to control their budget. The only solution is; VOTE FOR NEW REGENTS Visit <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 6:33 a.m.

I'm a little bit afraid that he might be a friend of Rapundalo. But, other than that fear, I think I could vote for him...tell us more.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 4:27 p.m.

@Ryan - Do you know if this event will be lived streamed? I'd love to watch it live!


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:52 p.m.

Wheres my Compazine?


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 4:57 p.m.

Well &quot;hank&quot; Take a look at what your hero has done for the country! <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 4:20 p.m.

Well Obama's half truths as you put it, are better than the republicans total lies.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:44 p.m.

Tremendous speech President Obama but I wish you would have pinned back the ears of the republican obstructionists. They need to be exposed to the American people for all the damage they have done to this economy.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 3:44 p.m.

The only reason anyone would have to pin back their ears, would be so they don't have to listen to his half truths!


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:23 p.m.

Let me see. This administration has been the most anti gas and oil exploration in history, but now he's in favor of exploration. This administration added more federal regulations and laws than any in history (in fairness, Bush is second on the list), but now he is against regulations. Does anybody take this seriously?

Marshall Applewhite

Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 3:35 p.m.

He is a prime example of someone you have to see what he does instead of paying attention to what he says.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:39 p.m.

Yes, people that can think and use common sense.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:07 p.m.

He gives an outstanding speech.....that's about it.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 1:40 p.m.

These next few months, now that Obama has started his campaign, along with some of the post here will be a tough time for those of us with some sense of truth. I suspect that the Center for Disease Control will have to come up with a vaccination to combat the NAUSEA that will sweep the country from listening to all the half truths and outright lies being spewed by the Obama trolls! Link to home nausea remedies: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Thu, Jan 26, 2012 : 2:23 a.m.

And while you three stand around in a circle and chuckle... Jan. 2012 Obama approval rating on the economy 41%. Jan. 2012 Obama approval rating on the deficit 35%. Jan. 2012 Poll of those who say little has been accomplished during Obama's tenure - who is responsible? Obama 56%, Republicans 18%. Jan.2012 Poll, approval rating on international affairs 49% (down from 62% in March 2009).


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:38 p.m.

Can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 1:55 p.m.

David, the whack jobs in the GOP that you're referring to aren't nauseating so much as they're just plain ridiculous. I watched the most recent NBC debate and it took me a few minutes to determine if it was the real candidates or Saturday Night Live. Watching them with your popcorn and a beer is great entertainment - they say so many stupid, bizarre and jaw-dropping things. Why anyone would think they're fit to govern is beyond me, but they're good for a quick laugh.

David Briegel

Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

Have you not been watching that clown posse climb out their VW Beetle and spew lie after lie?


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 1:03 p.m.

Yeah we get it, he doesn't believe anyone should have to pay for anything. Well except for the ones working, they get to pay for everything.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:35 p.m.

Thumbs up Fordie and beeswing!


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:33 p.m.

Spewing. It is pretty much a direct stream spew from Fox to cinnabar to


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 1:21 p.m.

Did you actually listen to what he said or are you just spewing the standard anti-Obama garbage?


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 11:39 a.m.

In my opinion, college is a privilege paid for by the student and/or family. We seem to be having a large number of students taking out tremendous loans to go to college for various degrees which in some cases do not afford payable employment. Then these same students wish to have the loans forgiven. Where I would put my help is with those student who work to earn the tuition, save for it, etc. and are dedicated to a profession that will provide an income. My dollars would go more toward elementary, middle and high school to insure that the students are graduating with a good education, to many times we are letting student slide through with the skills to go to college or get a job.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 6:50 a.m.

He left out that GM still owes the taxpayers 26 billion dollars and they need to sell a lot of cars to pay it back, meanwhile they agreed to 5,000 dollar bonuses for UAW employees. What happened to paying your debt back. Public employee unions in Michigan alone are 56 billion dollars underfunded, cities are bankrupt due to cronyism, incompetence, special interest influence, and corruption. So what's the upside again? College should be free with a year for year service commitment in government positions afterwards. Then we could eliminate all public employee career positions, always have fresh talent, and young motivated employees, with fewer of the long term liabilities.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:33 p.m.

An apt description of republicans.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 2:32 p.m.

Out of necessity. Anyway... Although I dislike your union busting tirade, I do like your idea of the year for year service commitment for college education. Not for the job elimination factor, but for the working experience it would give students and also for the opportunity to finance their education. Wait a minute, that is what work study is. You tricked me.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 10:53 a.m.

He left out a lot!


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 6:44 a.m.

I was disappointed not to see my State Rep. Mark Ouimet sitting on his hands at the Address. Were attendance monies and reimbursable travel funds unavailable?


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 10:52 a.m.

A silly political jab. State legislators do not attend the State of the Union address.

David Briegel

Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 5:05 a.m.

And the very people who benefitted so greatly from the huge investment of our civil society are now refusing to &quot;pay it forward&quot; to continue our investment for an educated future! What a noble thing to do? Can you imagine the gall?

Marshall Applewhite

Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 5:04 a.m.

I wish Obama would acknowledge the fact that readily available student loans to anyone is the main reason for the skyrocketing costs of tuition. Because the loans are so readily available, there are no market forces present to keep costs down naturally. Somehow, the given solution is for the state to further subsidize these skyrocketing costs. Sorry, but this isn't really palatable to an already strapped public.