President Barack Obama said Monday that the United States must boost educational achievement if it is to thrive economically and compete on the world stage.
Addressing a spirited crowd at the University of Texas, President Obama said the United States cannot afford to ignore troubling trends in higher education.
"We have been slipping," said President Obama. "In a single generation, we've fallen from first place to 12th place in college graduation rates for young adults. Think about that. That is unacceptable, but it is not irreversible. We can retake the lead."
The president said educational achievement and economic wellbeing are intertwined, particularly in an information and technology-driven globalized economy. His goal is to have eight million more U.S. college graduates by 2020.
"Education is an economic issue," said Mr. Obama. "Education is the economic issue of our time. It's an economic issue when the unemployment rate for folks who've never gone to college is almost double what it is for those who have gone to college. Education is an economic issue when nearly eight in 10 new jobs will require workforce training or a higher education by the end of this decade. Education is an economic issue when we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow."
Mr. Obama said that as young adults, both he and first lady Michele Obama struggled to pay off college tuition loans. He said educational opportunity must never be limited by a family's financial resources. The president noted that the federal government has overhauled the student loan system while boosting tax credits for families struggling to pay tuition costs. At the same time, the president said efforts must continue to boost graduation rates.
Mr. Obama acknowledged that the United States faces tough economic times, and that some students might question the wisdom of sacrificing for a higher education when the job market looks so bleak. But the president said that a brighter economic future will only be possible with a well-educated workforce, and that today's students carry the nation's hopes for a more prosperous tomorrow.
For decades, America's system of higher education has been among the best in the world. In recent years, however, the percentage of Americans with college degrees has declined as tuition for state and private institutions alike has soared.