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Here are excerpts from all 18 speeches we could find in which President Barack Obama addressed the question of what Americans should do after graduating from high school.
In seven speeches, Obama focused not on having every young American attend college, but rather making college a possibility for every American who wants to attend, particularly making it more affordable. Here are those speeches:
• A letter by Barack Obama to his daughters, published in Parade magazine, Jan. 2009. “In the end, girls, that's why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation. I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential—schools that challenge them, inspire them, and instill in them a sense of wonder about the world around them. I want them to have the chance to go to college—even if their parents aren't rich.”
• Remarks at the TechBoston Academy, Boston, Mass., March 9, 2011. “What’s happening here is working. We know what works. What’s required, then, to get results from any school is no longer a mystery. And that means there can’t be any more excuses -- from anybody. As a nation, we have a moral and economic imperative to give every child the chance to succeed. And that’s why I set a goal when I took office, that by the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. We will be number one again.”
• Remarks at a Democratic National Committee event, June 23, 2011. “We still have so much more work to do on education. We have made great strides, but we have to hit the goal that I set that once again we will have the highest proportion of college graduates of any country in the world. And every single young person who is willing to apply themselves can afford to go to college without taking on hundreds of thousands of debt. That is still something that we've got to accomplish.”
• Remarks at Osawatomie High School, Osawatomie, Kan., Dec. 6, 2011. “In this economy, a higher education is the surest route to the middle class. The unemployment rate for Americans with a college degree or more is about half the national average. And their incomes are twice as high as those who don’t have a high school diploma. Which means we shouldn’t be laying off good teachers right now -- we should be hiring them. We shouldn’t be expecting less of our schools –- we should be demanding more. 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 of debt just because they went.”
• Remarks at a campaign event in Washington, D.C., Jan. 9, 2012. “We should be trying to win the race to the top. We should be competing to make sure that we've got the best schools in the world, and our workers have the best training and skills in the world, and we've got a college education within reach of everybody who wants to go. That's the race we should be trying to win.”
• Remarks at a campaign event in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 23, 2012. “We've said that not only do we want to improve K through 12 so that every child is getting the basics -- math and science and English -- but we want everybody to be able to go to college. And we took $60 billion that was going to -- that was being channeled to the banks as subsidies through the student loan program, and we said let’s take that money and give it directly to students so that we could expand Pell grants and we could make sure that every -- young people who want to go to college can afford to do so. Because right now, actually, student loan debt is higher than credit card debt in this country. And it’s a huge burden on the next generation and we have to start relieving it.”
• Remarks at the Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables, Fla., Feb. 23, 2012. “When kids graduate, I want them to be able to afford to go to college. If they've been working hard, if they've gotten the grades to go to college, I don't want them to cut their dreams short because they don't think they can afford it.”
In another four speeches, Obama focused on community colleges as an alternative to the traditional, four-year college experience. Here are those speeches:
• Remarks at Macomb Community College, Warren, Michigan, July 14, 2009. “Now, I know that for a long time there have been politicians who have spoken of training as a silver bullet and college as a cure-all. It's not, and we know that. I can't tell you how many workers who've been laid off, you talk to them about training and they say, "Training for what?" So I understand the frustrations that a lot of people have, especially if the training is not well designed for the specific jobs that are being created out there. But we know that in the coming years, jobs requiring at least an associate degree are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college experience. We will not fill those jobs -- or even keep those jobs here in America -- without the training offered by community colleges.”
• Remarks on the economy, Columbus, Ohio, Aug. 18, 2010. “We've got to focus on community colleges, which are a wonderful asset. Not everybody's going to go to a four-year college. And even if you go to a four-year college you may need to go back and retrain two years or -- for a year or two even while you're working to keep up -- keep pace with new technologies, new developments in your industry. So what we really try to do is -- is to partner with community colleges, figure out how we can strengthen them, put more resources into them, and link them up to businesses who are actually hiring so that they're training people for the jobs that exist as opposed to the jobs that don't. One of the problems we've had for a lot of young people is they go to college training for a job thinking that their job's -- or thinking there's a job out there, and actually the economy has moved on. And what we need to do is tailor people's education so that they are linked up with businesses.”
• State of the Union Address, Jan. 25, 2011. “Of course, the education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma. To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American. That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students. And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit –- worth $10,000 for four years of college. It’s the right thing to do. Because people need to be able to train for new jobs and careers in today’s fast-changing economy, we’re also revitalizing America’s community colleges.”
• Remarks at a Democratic issues conference, Jan. 27, 2012. “They don't all have to go to four-year colleges and universities -- although we need more engineers and we need more scientists, and we've got to make sure that college is affordable and accessible. But we also need skilled workers who are going to community colleges, or middle-aged workers who are allowed to retrain, have a commitment to work, have that work ethic, but want to make sure that technology is not passing them by -- and so focusing on our community colleges, and making sure that they're matched up with businesses that are hiring right now, and making sure that they help to design the programs that are going to put them -- put people in place to get those jobs right away.”
In another four speeches, Obama was quite explicit about encouraging Americans to pursue either a college education or vocational training, apprenticeships or lifelong retraining. Here are those speeches:
• State of the Union Address, Feb. 24, 2009. “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.”
• Remarks at Fox Senior High School, Arnold, Mo., April 29, 2009. “Once kids get out of high school, making college affordable is absolutely critical. We have to redesign the college experience so that -- not everybody is going to go to school for four years right in a row when they're 18. Some people are going to work for two years, then go back to school for two years once they figure out something they're interested in; go back to work, maybe five years down the road they need to retrain. We've got to create a pathway for lifelong learning for young people -- and not-so-young people -- so that all American workers are continually upgrading their skills. So we want to put a lot more emphasis on community colleges and how they are working effectively together.”
• Remarks in a “back to school” speech, Sept. 28, 2011. “Not only do you have to graduate from high school, but you're going to have to continue education after you leave. You have to not only graduate, but you've got to keep going after you graduate. That might mean, for many of you, a four-year university. I was just talking to Donae, and she wants to be an architect, and she's interning with a architectural firm, and she's already got her sights set on what school she wants to go to. But it might, for some other folks, be a community college, or professional credentialing or training. But the fact of the matter is, is that more than 60 percent of the jobs in the next decade will require more than a high school diploma -- more than 60 percent. That's the world you're walking into.”
• Remarks at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich., Jan. 27, 2012. “Higher education is not a luxury. It's an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford. And when I say higher education, I don't just mean four-year colleges and universities; I also mean our community colleges and providing lifelong learning for workers who may need to retrain for jobs when the economy shifts. All those things cost money, and it's harder and harder to afford.”
Obama sent somewhat different signals in three speeches, sounding a note that’s more like what Santorum had asserted. Here are those three speeches:
• Remarks at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser, Austin, Texas, May 10, 2011. “Our reforms are not done. I want every child in Texas and every child in America ready to graduate, ready to go to college, and actually able to afford going to college. That's how we're going to out-compete and out-educate the rest of the world. That's how America will succeed in the 21st century.”
• Remarks at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dinner in Minneapolis, Minn., Oct. 23, 2010. “We've got to make sure that every young person in America is prepared for college and then can afford to go to college. So we took tens of billions of dollars that were going to the banks in unwarranted subsidies and we shifted those to our student loan programs and our Pell Grant programs. And we've got millions of young people all across the country who are now able to afford college because of the steps that these courageous members of Congress were willing to take during the course of this year.”
• Remarks at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee dinner in Rockville, Md., Oct. 18, 2010. “We said, well, how do we make sure that every young person can go to college once they get through that high school? And we shifted billions of dollars that were going to banks in the form of unwarranted subsidies and we took that money and we made sure that that money was going directly to student loans and Pell Grants so that young people would never feel as if they were barred from opportunity simply because they didn't come from a wealthy family.”