WASHINGTON (CN) – Amid an alarming college drop out rate of roughly 40 percent, President Barack Obama addressed a crowd of college students Monday, underlining the importance of education and the necessity of much greater funding for research and development as global competition increases. “We used to be number one,” said Obama. “We should be number 1 again.”
Speaking from a community college in upstate New York, Obama warned of the phenomenon’s economic repercussions. “In the coming years, jobs requiring at least an associate’s degree are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college experience,” he said. “We will not fill those jobs, or keep those jobs on our shores, without graduating more students.”
Apart from already increasing Pell Grants and instituting a $2,500 tax credit for college tuition, Obama laid out his strategy to further spur education, setting the goal of directing a full three percent of the Gross Domestic Product towards research and development, and of ending the arrangement where the government pays $80 billion to banks for providing risk-free student loans, which he has said will allow for greater increases in Pell Grants.
“For the first time since World War II, we are no longer leading the world,” Charles Kolb of the non-partisan Committee of Economic Development said of the nation’s post-secondary education rates. “That’s a failure for us and we will pay for it,” he said.
Kolb, a republican who worked under the George H.W. Bush administration, said he “would applaud what the president is doing.”
“Ending this unwarranted subsidy for the big banks is a no-brainer for folks everywhere,” Obama said before clarifying. “Everywhere except Washington.”
Kolb from the Committee of Economic Development agreed. “The goal should be students and not subsidies,” he said.
Kolb added that “the president is right to focus on investment in research and development,” and said such investments have resulted in a number of important advancements, like the internet.
Obama restated his goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.
“We used to be number one. We should be number 1 again,” he said. “If government does its modest part, there is no stopping the most powerful and generative economic force the world has ever known: the American people.”
He also called for renewed investment in government sponsored research, especially basic research, “which has been badly neglected for decades,” he said, and pushed for the research and development tax credit to be made permanent.
Chris Dreibelbis from the Reform Institute, a centrist think tank, called these “good policies” and explained that basic research “is not the kind of thing that the private sector generally invests in because there’s not a clear return on their investment.”
Making the tax credit permanent is “long overdue,” Dreibelbis added. Currently the tax credit legislation is renewed every few years, but he said congressmen “use it as a kind of weapon” for fundraising, where they initially threaten not to renew the tax credit.
Under the current system, the uncertain tax credit also makes long term planning difficult for corporations.
Hudson Valley Community College lies in a manufacturing region that has been especially hard hit by the economic downturn and Obama said a few words of inspiration to the audience. “This is a place where anyone with the desire to take their career to a new level or start a new career altogether has the opportunity to pursue that dream.”