"Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide," said President Obama in a speech to grade students as they head back to school this week. The tone of his speech was reminiscent of JFK's call to public service, a responsibility bore by each citizen derived simply from being an American. In today's case, the president challenged grade school students to make the most of their education by using their knowledge to serve their country.
Those fortunate enough to achieve a higher education have a similar charge to put their degrees' to use; however, there's a caveat. A K-12 education is guaranteed by the state, a higher education is not. Children and teenagers in this country are given an incredible opportunity to exercise their creativity in arts and literature, discover the vast and exciting world of science, and develop critical thinking and deductive reasoning skills through mathematics and social studies. Their worries are not how to finance their education, only how to best employ it. This needs to be the reality college students. If, as the president so ardently advocates, education is the key to our economic and social prosperity, then higher education must be made a right in this country.
There are two pieces of legislation currently in Congress that will bring this vision a bit closer to fruition. The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) invests billions of dollars into Direct Loan programs such as the Pell grant, Perkins loan, and Work Study. These financial aid programs give students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to pursue a degree and better their lives. The DREAM Act affords undocumented students who currently to pay outrageous costs for college eligibility for federal financial aid. The aptly named bill will allow millions of hard-working students to realize their dream of a higher education in the land they've called home all their lives.
While President Obama's message was directed to adolescents, his vision for an education system limited only by the vigor and energy of its students can equally be shared by the college community. Let us not lose this opportunity to secure student aid reform, open the college doors to thousands of bright and capable undocumented students, and engage the political system like never before!