Obama announces higher ed reforms at Tech

Photo by Brenda Lin

On Tuesday, more than 9,500 Tech students, faculty and staff, as well as dignitaries from around the state, gathered at McCamish Pavilion to hear President Obama give an address on college affordability.

“Higher education has never been more important, but it’s also never been more expensive,” Obama said in the speech.

Introducing the president at the event was third-year AE Tiffany Davis who wrote to him last October about her personal experience with college affordability.

“I just felt like it was really inspiring seeing someone at that level talking about issues that I face daily, and issues that my children could face, and really being on my side,” Davis said after the event.

According to the White House, Tech’s innovation in higher education was a factor in the selection of Tech as the backdrop for the speech.

“We’re encouraging colleges to innovate around bringing down costs and helping students learn more. …” said James Kvaal, Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council in a conference call with student journalists. “And Georgia Tech is a good example of that. One of the reasons the president went [to Tech] is they have a Masters program in Computer Science that is completely online and covers the same material as the in-person Masters degree but has a tuition of only one-third the cost.”

The Online Master of Science in Computer Science degree, launched last Spring, was the first degree program from an accredited university that operates entirely online.

In a separate conversation, the White House emphasized that new innovations in higher education were an important part of Obama’s effort to lower the cost of tuition.

“The president agrees that we need to work with colleges to bring down tuition costs while helping students learn more,” Kvaal said. “There are promising approaches, some of which use cutting-edge technology like Georgia Tech, and others that are more common-sense like letting credits transfer from community colleges to four-year universities.”

At the speech, Obama outlined new actions that the Department of Education will take to help those repaying student loans.

“We’re going to require that the businesses that service your loans provide clear information about how much you owe, what your options are for repaying it, and if you’re falling behind, help you get back in good standing with reasonable fees on a reasonable timeline,” Obama said.

In addition, the president spoke about streamlining the complaint process and customer service for student loan borrowers as well as requiring lenders to pay off higher interest loans first. The White House also announced a number of other actions including creating a central point of access for account and payment processing information, ensuring that Social Security Disability payments are not garnished for loan repayment and releasing state-by-state information about student loans.

“We’re trying to tackle this problem from every angle,” Obama said. “There’s no silver bullet.”

Obama also encouraged students and national leaders to sign the “Student Aid Bill of Rights,” which the president announced and signed earlier that day. The first article states that “every student deserves access to a quality, affordable education at a college that’s cutting costs and increasing learning.”

Despite its reputation as a primarily tech-focused school, thousands of students gathered for the speech and stood in line, sometimes for up to three hours, to get tickets to the event.

“I thought the event was incredible and just seeing the entire Georgia Tech community show up in such a big way was really inspiring,” said Dillon Roseen, Undergraduate Student Body President. “And the president’s remarks were spot on, I think they connected with a lot of people in the audience.”

The speech ran approximately 26 minutes long and included shout-outs to such Tech traditions as the Ramblin’ Wreck and George P. Burdell.