Aug 10, 2010

Students need action, not just vision

It read “Students Over Banks.” The headline on the Obama Administration’s website simply defined a priority the president has long chided as one of the utmost important to this country’s future. Regardless, for students, the situation at our colleges and universities across the country has long been untenable.

Earlier this year was arguably one of the few bright spots we have encountered despite our years of challenging the status quo, all in an attempt to prioritize education. With the passage of Student Aid Reform, we saw the biggest investment in Higher Education in this nations history—removing the Federal Family Educational Loan Program and diverting approximately $60 billion dollars into new funding for the Pell Grant, Minority Serving Institutions (MSI), and vital outreach programs to assist in greater access and affordability. Despite this, in a recent article published by the Huffington Post, student debt will out pace credit card debt, totaling a staggering $829.785 billion dollars, a testament to an ongoing national trend in America’s colleges and universities.

In his speech last night, President Obama acknowledged the lack of priority higher education has been given, explaining how

“In a single generation, we’ve fallen from first place to 12th place in college graduation rates for young adults..”

Yes, the drop is staggering. But what should be shocking is the level of inaction demonstrated on behalf of the Federal Government. Yes, student aid reform was a big victory, but President Obama’s Texas speech was supposed to outline a bold visionary plan for how to move from there, how to achieve greater access and affordability post-student aid reform. Instead, the president showed us he agreed with our vision emphasizing equal accessibility, affordability, quality, and opportunity—all words and ideas that as students we know too well.

“And that’s why I'm absolutely committed to making sure that…nobody is denied a college education, nobody is denied a chance to pursue their dreams, nobody is denied a chance to make the most of their lives just because they can’t afford it.”

What we heard was a reification of a past victory that made many students feel as if that was it, he had saved us.  Yet, students across the country who have been hunger striking, risking deportation and getting arrested for the Federal DREAM Act were once again silenced and unacknowledged. President Obama is right, education needs to be a priority and America should produce 8 million more college students by 2020. But what students need now is real change, the kind we have been asking for, the kind found in our relentless calls for the passage of the Federal DREAM Act as a standalone bill.

As students across the country gear up for another election, we do so with history on our minds—guided by the principle that education is a right and not a privilege. Come November, with the United States Student Association, students will communicate our grievances, and we will be heard; because what America needs is more than just vision, but action.  

- By USSA Vice President Victor Sanchez

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