At a White House meeting with state governors last week, President Barack Obama made a strong declaration of the importance of higher education, confronting opponents’ views on the matter.
“We can’t allow higher education to be a luxury in this country,” said Obama.
The comment comes off the back of a statement made by Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum. The former senator of Pennsylvania claimed that Obama’s focus on higher education alienated him from other Americans.
“President Obama once said he wants everyone in America to go to college. What a snob,” said Santorum, according to Reuters.
Obama said he doesn’t think this should be a partisan issue.
“It’s an economic imperative that every family in America has to be able to afford,” Obama said.
According to Reuters, White House spokesman Jay Carney claimed that Obama’s message was a broad speech on the overall stance of education, but many Americans wouldn’t consider it arrogant to want the best education for their child.
While nothing has been officially promised by Obama or the Federal Government, Obama urged governors to give more attention and aid to higher education.
“(College education) should be available to anyone who wants to try,” said Geoff Pamgan, 21, a civil engineering major. “As long as the student is willing to try to get that education and achieve their goal to get a good job, it should be available to anyone.”
Pamgan takes advantage of federal aid to further his education.
“I have student loans from FAFSA,” Pamgan said. “It sucks that I’m not eligible for any Cal Grants or anything, but loans are good enough considering I’m going to school right now. Hopefully I can get a good job afterwards.”
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), tuition prices have been steadily increasing over the last 10 years. From 1999-2000 and 2009-10, prices rose 37 percent for public institutions nationwide, adjusted for inflation.
In November 2011 the California State University Board of Trustees voted to increase tuition for the Fall 2012 semester by 9 percent. In the last decade tuition at Cal State Fullerton has gone from about $1,500 to more than $5,000. Campus-based fees have increased as well, according to the CSU Budget Office.
With that, student loans and subsequent debt have become the norm on college campuses. A study in 2009 by the NCES showed that 66 percent of full-time students receive some type of financial aid, whether through private or student loans, grants or work study benefits.
Pam Hernandez, 43, an academic counselor at CSUF, said college education shouldn’t be an inaccessible goal, but she sees it moving that way.
“It should be accessible to everybody and it should be made affordable … but it’s becoming more what we had way in the past with education being more for the elitist and people who are in a higher income bracket,” said Hernandez.
Hernandez said everyone should have the chance at college, and what he or she does with that chance is up to them.
A national study done by the NCES said in fall 2002 that 57 percent of students at public schools graduate within six years.
With budget cuts increasing pressure on school systems, it can be harder to register for classes.
“Students are having a harder time getting classes which obviously makes it harder for them to graduate on time,” Hernandez said. “And with the costs going up it does present a big financial strain and stress for the students that we see.”
Over the last decade, general funding from the state to the CSU system has been reduced by $868 million, causing tuition rates to go up an average of 15 percent a year. This is a fact that has not escaped many students.
“College is kind of a luxury to get your degree,” said Christina Costa, 35, a CSUF alumna. “But everyone should have the opportunity to try for it.”
Costa was a student on and off for 11 years and graduated from CSUF in 2006. She used financial aid for about two years while she was going to school and supporting her daughter.
“Even at community colleges, it’s so difficult for people now to just go to school,” Costa said. “I didn’t have a magic crystal ball that would tell me how hard it would be to get a job … so I had to work 50 hours a week just to get by and cover my student debts.”
Hernandez said she hopes the government can show more support for higher education.
“It’s very unfortunate,” Hernandez said, “My heart really breaks for the students that have to go through this.”