Courtesy of TheDetroitNews:
Ann Arbor— President Barack Obama was on the stage for about 40 minutes at the University of Michigan for a speech Friday in front of thousands of students, touching on the need for making higher education more accessible and affordable.
And the president wasted no time getting started.
“The reason I’m here today, in addition to meeting (U-M quarterback) Denard Robinson, is to talk with all of you about what most of you do here every day,” he said. “That is to think about how you can gain the skills and training you need to succeed in this 21st century economy. This is going to be one of the most important issues that not just you face but everyone in the entire country faces.”
Drawing on his own experience and that of the first lady’s, he said: “Your president and your first lady were in your shoes, not that long ago. We didn’t come from wealthy families. The only way we were able to achieve what we achieved is because we got a great education. We could not have done that unless we lived in a country that made a commitment to opening up that opportunity to all people.”
As in his State of the Union address Wednesday, Obama called for the extension of the tuition tax credit to make education more affordable. He also called on states to find new and creative ways to stop rising tuition costs.
“We’re telling the states if you can bring down the cost of college and find ways for more students to graduate … we will give you additional federal support,” he said
Obama delivered his message at U-M, where last year, a single year’s in-state tuition at reached $11,837, roughly 26 percent of the state’s median household income.
From jobs and education, the president turned his attention to fuel efficiency and the environment.
“No matter how much oil we produce, we’ve only got 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. That means we have to focus on clean, renewable energy — and that is good for our economy. That creates jobs, but is also good for our environment. It also makes sure that this planet is sustainable. That’s part of the future you deserve.”
Obama also called for further extension of the payroll tax cut that has been a sticking point in Congress before addressing his views on income tax rates in America.
“We’ve got to choose,” he said. “When it comes to paying our fair share, I believe we should follow the Warren Buffet rule. If you make more than $1 million a year, then you should pay a tax rate of at least 30 percent. On other hand, if you go into a less lucrative profession….if you make less than $250,000… then your taxes shouldn’t go up.”
Following the national anthem and the pledge of allegiance, DeAndree Watson, president of the university’s school assembly, offered up a thematic taste ahead of the president’s speech.
“If we didn’t live in a world that invested in higher education, I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “As a student from Detroit’s east side and a product of the Detroit school system, I am here today to seek a world class education – something that would not be possible without (investment in education).”
And despite snow and rain coming down in the predawn hours, thousands were willing to stand in line waiting for entrance to the University of Michigan’s Al Glick Field House for the chance to hear Obama’s message.
Early Friday, freshman Ethan Fitzgerald, 18, of New York said he was waiting outside at 6:45 a.m. and already had hundreds of ticketholders in front of him — that’s after a 10-hour wait for a ticket Thursday. But he didn’t want to miss “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“In the historic sense, it’d be cool if he announces some new program,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m thinking it’s more of a campaign speech, though, which I’m OK with.”
In addition to Fitzgerald, others in the crowd included Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
“We’re challenging states with some significant carrots that they have to maintain their commitment to higher education, and we’re challenging universities to keep that tuition down,” Duncan said during a remote interview with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien. “If all three partners — the states, the local universities and the federal government — come together, then great things are going to happen for our country. If that doesn’t happen, were going to invest less in those states or in those universities where they don’t have the best interest of young people at heart.”
Outside the field house, dozens of people who identify as belonging to the Republican and tea parties are lined up carrying signs protesting the policies of Obama.
Protesters, suchas Sam Shrago, 18, a U-M engineering student, said Obama’s administration is killing jobs.
“We’re gathered here because we feel he’s here to garner electoral support instead of addressing the issues,” Shrago said.
Obama’s appearance came just two days after his wide-ranging State of the Union address. During Wednesday night’s State of the Union address, Obama targeted rising tuition costs as one of the biggest obstacles to education and training beyond the high school level for future workers.
Industry leaders around the state have bemoaned the scarcity of highly skilled workers in Michigan, and many of them were heartened by the president’s speech Wednesday. Elizabeth Parkinson, senior vice president of marketing and communication for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, was among them.
“One of the things we want to hear more about is federal support for work force training — meaningful and targeted training for the unemployed, the difficult to employ and those who need new skills for the positions that are available,” she said. “And we’re also interested in the focus on education. We need to make sure we’re building curriculums and funding programs that put our kids in a position to be employable.”
Staff writer Serena Maria Daniels and the New York Times News Service contributed.